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Thursday, June 29, 2006
Updated: June 30, 12:53 PM ET
Other teams flailing behind Penske, Ganassi entries

By John Schwarb
Special to ESPN.com

Scott Dixon understands the emotions running through the have-nots of the IndyCar Series, which so far this season includes anyone and everyone not driving a red and white car.

Vitor Meira
Vitor Meira is still seeking his first win, but he is one of the few drivers giving the Penske and Ganassi teams a challenge.

Through the first half of the Indy Racing League schedule, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have owned the headlines and the finish lines. Seven races have been contested, all won by four drivers from the two teams. Consequently, Penske's Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. and Ganassi Racing's Dixon and Dan Wheldon have a lock on the top four spots in the points standings. The lap-by-lap breakdown is even more astounding, if that's possible, as the four have led all but 83 of 1,205 laps.

It's all enough to drive everyone in the rest of the garages crazy, and Dixon knows it.

"You can definitely see it," the 2003 series champion said. "It's tough to deal with, and we know firsthand what it's like."

Dixon's team, along with Penske, languished the previous two years behind a dominant Andretti Green Racing team. Now the other shoe has dropped -- through the floorboard of the Honda-powered Dallara.

Andretti's 2006 squad, now minus Wheldon, is without a win, and 19-year-old Marco Andretti's heartbreaker at Indianapolis is its lone runner-up finish. Last year its stable of drivers racked up 36 top-five finishes. So far this year, the number is a pedestrian eight.

Rahal Letterman Racing -- the other marquee name always guaranteed attention, with second-year driver Danica Patrick -- has done next to nothing. Patrick's 12th-place spot in the points standings is the team's highest, and the next lap RLR leads on an oval this year will be its first.

That's the report card going into Sunday's Kansas Lottery Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway (ABC, 1 p.m. ET), where the 15 drivers of the non-Penske/Ganassi club will get another chance to break the four-man parade at the top. Most of the field got a look at the track two weeks ago in an open test, where the top four speeds were turned in by … well, you know. (For the record, Dixon was first at just over 216 mph with a tow, 2 mph ahead of Wheldon.)

"Right now it's two teams … actually four cars that are very competitive," Castroneves said. "It sometimes takes a little time for [the field] to catch up, especially when you're looking for small details."

The smallest details have made the difference at Kansas. Ask Vitor Meira, who has been knocking on the door in recent weeks and wouldn't have to answer questions about his 52-race IRL winless streak if decimal-point finishes went his way at Kansas' 1.5-mile tri-oval.

Last year, Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan beat then-teammate Wheldon by .012 of a second, with Meira a half-car length behind in third.

In 2004, Buddy Rice edged Meira at the finish line by .0051 of a second, the second-closest finish in series history.

This year Meira has headed the best-of-the-rest category, ranking fifth in points with 192 for his single-car Panther Racing team, 25 behind Wheldon. He was second to points leader Castroneves on June 10 at Texas and second to Hornish last weekend at Richmond.

"I think we had the best car in the field [at Richmond]," said Meira, whose orange Dallara still seeks a primary sponsor as well as a victory. "We just have to tune a little bit to get the win. But we are as competitive as everyone else."

Still, the week-in, week-out competition remains Penske vs. Ganassi. At times this season, both teams have downplayed any suggestion of a rivalry, though that can't help to heat up if they continue swapping wins. Wheldon's driving of a Ganassi car carrying the one-week-special paint scheme of a smoking-cessation product in Richmond, home to Team Penske's Marlboro sponsor, was a nice touch.

In four of seven races the two teams have finished 1-2, and another such finish this weekend, maybe with the razor-thin margin Kansas can produce, would only further fuel their fires while dousing everyone else's.

"I think you'll see people trying to jump teams and all kinds of things going on later in the year," said Dixon, the winner June 4 at Watkins Glen. "It's unfortunate, but that's how the cycle goes."

That is, if you're not firmly entrenched at the top.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com