Edmonton shaping up to be slugfest

The Honda Indy Edmonton has been given a makeover for 2011, with a new track layout that should work nicely with the "have at it, boys" mentality that seems to be consuming the drivers of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Coming off a wreck fest in Toronto, where more than half the IndyCar field crashed into a wall or another competitor, the wide-open expanses of the revised Edmonton City Centre road course will offer plenty of room for racing. Whether the drivers can keep that racing clean remains to be seen.

Of course half of the Edmonton track is still made up of wide airport runways, and last year's event proved cars don't have to crash into each other to cause controversy.

By running a defensive line on a restart, Helio Castroneves was found guilty of blocking. That handed the race win to Scott Dixon and sent Castroneves into a widely publicized rampage.

Castroneves said in his exclusive ESPN.com column that he is returning to Edmonton with the mindset of defending the race win that he believes was unfairly taken from him.

"The official record may not reflect that I won last year, but a lot of people believe that, including myself," he said. "I plan to drive the same way and hopefully we will come away with another victory."

The old track's 150-degree first corner has been replaced by a pair of hairpin turns that should provide opportunities for drivers to execute clean overtaking moves.

The new track packs 13 corners into 2.3 miles. The old course measured 1.96 miles.

"It will be a new game for everybody, but understanding what made a car work on the old track will definitely help to be competitive on the new one," Oriol Servia of Newman/Haas Racing said.

"It looks like some of the corners are maybe just about as tight as the Long Beach hairpin," added Andretti Autosport star Ryan Hunter-Reay. "We've got a fourth-gear straight preceding one of them, so that should be pretty interesting. Can you imagine?"

Dixon is a two-time winner of the Edmonton race (2008 and '10); Will Power won the only other IndyCar sanctioned race at the airport track. Edmonton Champ Car race winners Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson are also in this weekend's 26-car field.

Power's 2009 win while driving part time for Team Penske went a long way toward securing a full-time seat with the legendary operation. The Australian lies second in the IndyCar Series standings, 55 points behind two-time defending series champion Dario Franchitti.

"I'm looking forward to this race weekend probably more than most," Power said. "We have had two poor finishes in a row, so we really need to put it all together this weekend and have a strong result. The new track configuration looks like it will allow us to pass, which will make it an interesting race for the drivers and an exciting race for the fans."

Power and Franchitti came together during the Toronto race, sending Power spinning out of contention. Franchitti went on to win, leading to a Twitter exchange in which Power said he was "PISSED" and called his rival "princess." In return, Franchitti encouraged Power to "check out the replay then give me a yell."

Dario Franchitti By the time we leave Edmonton that lead could be gone, no doubt. That's just the way this works. I'm not even thinking about the points lead. The number is immaterial until that last race.

-- Dario Franchitti

Although he has won three races this year and has a seemingly comfortable championship lead, Franchitti said refuses to believe he can start thinking about his third consecutive (and fourth overall) IndyCar Series crown.

"By the time we leave Edmonton that lead could be gone, no doubt," Franchitti said. "That's just the way this works. I'm not even thinking about the points lead. The number is immaterial until that last race. That's when it counts. I just go out each week and try and do my very best.

"The points thing is going to ebb and flow all throughout the year. Scott looks really strong right now. He's just lacked some luck this year. He's been in position to win a lot of races this year, and so look for Scott to come on strongly. We know the level that Will operates at, too, and then there's another 10 or 15 people that can win any race right now. That points lead can be gone like that, so I just don't even think about it."

With finishes of third or better in four of the last five races, Dixon has overcome a slow start to his season to emerge third in the standings, 83 points behind his Target Ganassi Racing teammate, Franchitti.

Dixon lost a big championship lead in 2008 but came back to clinch the title in the final race. So he knows even a large cushion like Franchitti has can be put in jeopardy.

"Dario is 'Mr. Consistent,' man!" Dixon noted. "Even if he's having a bad day he seems to pull something out and they get on the podium and get good points.

"He hasn't had any bad luck, so maybe some will come. I'm not going to wish it upon him, but that's definitely what we would need to try and make a good run at the championship."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.