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Friday, October 9, 2009
Dixon on verge of tying IndyCar's top title mark

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Danica Patrick leads the IndyCar Series in terms of column inches and television time.

But Scott Dixon tops the charts in all the important statistics that matter to racers. Like laps led, races won and championship points.

The 29-year-old New Zealander can notch another statistical hallmark Saturday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway if he emerges from the Firestone Indy 300 as a three-time IndyCar Series champion. Dixon leads the points standings heading into the season finale, and he has the opportunity to match Sam Hornish Jr.'s if he wraps up title No. 3, to accompany the crowns he earned in 2003 and 2008.

Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon set himself up for a third IndyCar Series title with a clutch victory at Motegi last month.

It won't be easy. Dixon has a slim five-point lead over his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, and eight points in hand over Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske. But at the same time, the math is pretty simple: If Dixon finishes ahead of Franchitti and Briscoe on the track, the championship is his.

The odds are stacked in his favor. Dixon is a two-time winner at Homestead, and both victories came during his championship seasons. Already established as the most successful driver during the IndyCar Series-sanctioned era with 21 victories, Dixon's mission now is to put his marks out of reach. But he knows that Franchitti and Briscoe have goals of their own to shoot for.

"For me, trying to go for records and going for three [championships] would be fantastic," he said. "Obviously that's the reason I'm pushing. Dario's [reason] would be from winning the championship in '07 and trying to come back and do the same thing once he has a full season in IndyCar again, and obviously, with Ryan, it would be his first. So I think all of us have the motivation.

"For me it's more about records," he added. "I think agendas from all of us are a little different. But ultimately I think the goal is by all means the same. I think the motivation is the same from all of us."

Back in April, it would have been difficult to envision Dixon being in this position. His season started badly with a pair of poor finishes on street courses, which are usually his bread and butter. But five race wins, culminating in a dominant run three weeks ago at Motegi, Japan, have put the Kiwi on the brink of a third series triumph.

He's happy that the title decider will be held at Homestead, which is unique among the six 1.5-mile speedways the IndyCar Series visits.

"I've been in the IndyCar Series for seven or eight years and it's always been the kickoff event, the first race of the season," he said. "It's in a lot of ways quite fundamental in how the championship rolls out, because the person who has won the first race at Homestead has a lot of the time gone on to win the championship.

"But I think it's a perfect scenario. It's Florida, it's Miami in October, and it's hot. It's going to be a twilight race, which is even better. I tend to like the scenario of being at Homestead a little more than being at Chicago, because Chicago's almost pretty much just straight-out speed, whereas Miami-Homestead, is definitely a little more technical. There's a little more grip reliance, to make sure you have a car mechanically that's quite good and the driver can manipulate that quite a bit. It's more of a team effort for whoever wins at Homestead."

The teaming of Franchitti and Dixon has produced one of the most successful seasons in the history of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Although the team boasts six CART and IndyCar Series championships since 1996, TCGR has never finished 1-2 in the standings, which is a distinct possibility this year.

Dixon has found Franchitti to be a much more team-oriented running mate compared to his past partners, who include Dan Wheldon and Tomas Scheckter.

"I think Dario and I understand in racing that you have the same equipment as someone else -- your friends and your teammates and things like that," he observed. "Some days you've just got to understand that your teammate's having a better day. It might be hard to swallow, but that's the way it goes. I don't think it changes anything. That's what racing is all about.

"First you've got to work together with your teammate, and then see what plays out. But both of our teams have done a lot of preparation and are looking forward to it. Obviously, the winner picks up the bar tab."

Despite all that is on the line -- the record-tying third consecutive championship and the $1 million bonus that goes with it -- Dixon insists he's treating Homestead as he would a typical race weekend.

"I think if you try to change your strategy or the way you approach the race, it might affect how quick you go over the outcome of the race, and ultimately the outcome of the championship," Dixon said. "So I think you try to keep it simple, and not put too much pressure on yourself and let it all play out. It's pretty much whoever beats who is going to walk away with the championship. So it's definitely good for all the fans and one of the toughest days for the drivers.

"But I'm definitely looking forward to it. It should be a great show, and a happy time for one of us. It's been a great shootout so far as the whole championship's gone, and I think everybody's definitely put in a lot of hard work this season -- teams and drivers and everybody else.

"We'll all find out probably by 7 o'clock Saturday night."