Dixon can wrap up 2008 IndyCar title

  • By Mike Harris Associated Press
  • Saturday, August 23, 2008 4:09pm
  • SportsSports

SONOMA, Calif. — Scott Dixon would like to get it over with this weekend.

The New Zealander heads into Sunday’s Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway with a chance to wrap up his second IndyCar Series championship.

After losing the title to Dario Franchitti last year when he ran out of fuel on the last lap of the last race, taking the championship with two races to go would be a good feeling for Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing team.

To get it done on Sonoma’s 2.245-mile, 12-turn road circuit, Dixon will have to came out of Sunday’s race at least 106 points ahead of second-place Helio Castroneves, third-place Dan Wheldon, his teammate, and Tony Kanaan — the remaining contenders.

Former series champions Wheldon, 138 points behind, and Kanaan, 147 in back of Dixon, would need a win and a miracle — or at least an early crash or engine failure by the leader — to stay in contention beyond Sunday. But, even if Dixon adds to his record-tying six victories this season, Castroneves can stay at least in the background of the title picture by finishing eighth or better.

Considering that the Brazilian has 12 finishes of fifth or better — including seven seconds — in 14 starts this season, that’s likely to be the case.

“It can definitely go down to the last race, it’s quite possible,” Dixon said Saturday. “We’re happy with the lead that we have.”

And Dixon has studied the possibilities. He knows that, if he can just add eight points to his lead over Castroneves on Sunday, it will be little more than a formality in the last two races at Detroit’s Belle Isle and Chicagoland Speedway.

“We’d have to turn out for the last two races, but that’s about it,” Dixon said. “So, if we can do that, that would be amazing.

“But those guys have already proven they’re very fast here, so that’s going to be very tough to do,” he added.

Castroneves, despite losing his primary car in a transporter fire earlier this week, kept up the pressure Saturday, winning his third pole of the season and the 26th of his career as he and Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe, also driving a backup, swept the front row in qualifying.

“What a great comeback for Team Penske,” Castroneves said. “Those guys on our team did a great job. If you close your eyes, you can’t tell the difference (from the primary car).”

Will Power was third, followed by Kanaan, Dixon and Oriol Servia. Wheldon will start 14th.

Although he isn’t haunted by last year’s hard-to-take finish, Dixon said the memory does make him aware of the bad things that can happen if you let other drivers stay too close.

“It does worry you because it kind of drags out a bit,” he said. “It’s so easy these days to have a mechanical failure on a car that’s performing so highly, be it the engine, the gearbox or even something else.”

That’s exactly what happened to Dixon earlier this season at St. Petersburg, where a mechanical problem relegated him to a season-worse 22nd-place finish.

“It’s far from done,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of hard work to do yet.”

Castroneves isn’t ready to concede anything to Dixon.

Asked if he can still win his first IndyCar title, without hesitation the Brazilian replied: “Absolutely!

“If there’s a chance, we’re not going to give up,” he added. “We’re trying to make the gap in the championship closer. But tomorrow’s going to be tough. The times are ridiculous, just so close. It’s going to be very hard to pass.”

Besides staying alive in the championship, Castroneves would love to get his first victory of the season.

“Fortunately, we’ve been quick in Sonoma in each visit, but we haven’t been able to bring home a win,” he said. “We’ve finished in the top-five the past two years, and I really want to take it to the next level this season in order to keep the Championship battle going.

“We’re not out of it, but we’re going to need a strong run to be able to stay in the fight.”

After Saturday qualifying; race Sunday

At Infineon Raceway

Sonoma, Calif.

Lap length: 2.303 miles

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 107.809.

2. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 107.787.

3. (8) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 107.551.

4. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 107.493.

5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 106.746.

6. (5) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 106.514.

7. (02) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 107.665.

8. (17) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 107.620.

9. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 107.609.

10. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 107.296.

11. (96) Mario Dominguez, Dallara-Honda, 107.031.

12. (19) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 106.856.

13. (18) Bruno Junqueira, Dallara-Honda, 106.524.

14. (33) E.J. Viso, Dallara-Honda, 107.090.

15. (06) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 106.427.

16. (10) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 107.014.

17. (12) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 106.124.

18. (4) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 106.923.

19. (23) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 105.849.

20. (27) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 106.287.

21. (14) Darren Manning, Dallara-Honda, 105.766.

22. (15) Buddy Rice, Dallara-Honda, 106.137.

23. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 105.745.

24. (2) A.J. Foyt IV, Dallara-Honda, 105.788.

25. (25) Marty Roth, Dallara-Honda, 103.708.

26. (34) Jaime Camara, Dallara-Honda, 104.325.

27. (36) Enrique Bernoldi, Dallara-Honda, no speed.

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