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Championship Race is Closest with Five Events Left than Any Year

By Dave Lewandowski

LEBANON, Tenn. – Scott Dixon was in the middle of a spirited 2003 points race with five events left, which evolved into an IndyCar Series championship for the New Zealander. He hopes the cards fall in similar fashion this year.

Victory in the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway vaulted Dixon into second in the standings with four ovals and one road-course events remaining. He trails Sam Hornish Jr. 316-311 heading into the ABC Supply Co AJ Foyt Indy 225 at The Milwaukee Mile on July 23. Helio Castroneves (310) is third and reigning IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon fourth (300).

The championship race, like the event under the lights at Nashville, is turning into a battle between red and white cars. Dixon led Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Wheldon to the checkers by 0.1176 of a second. Castroneves finished fifth, while Marlboro Team Penske teammate Hornish suffered his first DNF of the season (Lap 129 crash). His 14th place let air out of a 20-point cushion.

The top four are the closest with five races left than any year since 2001 (from 1996-2000, there were fewer races and points payouts). The closest comparison is '03, when Tony Kanaan led with 357 points. Gil de Ferran was second (350), Castroneves third (347) and Dixon fourth (333). It went down to the final race – at Texas Motor Speedway – before Dixon claimed the title.

This year's race appears headed in the same direction. Better order tickets for the Sept. 10 race at Chicagoland Speedway now.

'I think, for our team, it was definitely a big gain,' Dixon said after recording his first oval victory since June 2003. '(Hornish) opened up a bit of a gap, nearly 40 points on us, I think coming into this race. It's always been nothing but looking towards the championship and trying to win the championship this year, and nothing's changed since.

'But this definitely helps the situation a lot. Now we just need to make sure that both the 9 and the 10 car are very competitive and can try and win a few more of these next few races.'

Hornish, a three-time winner this season, is the defending champion at The Mile. The pole sitter beat Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti, the 2004 winner, to the line.

'Any time you make significant points on Sam, it's a good thing, because he doesn't normally give them away,' said Wheldon, who didn't give anyone a chance in the championship race last year by winning four of the initial five races.