IndyCar Series Championship Contenders Preview Upcoming "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Edy's
IndyCar Series championship contenders Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon provided thoughts on the 2007 series championship race and a preview of the Aug. 11 "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Edy's" during a visit to Kentucky Speedway today.
Dixon, who turned test laps in his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone machine today during the a series off week, trails championship leader and Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti by 24 points after collecting a third straight series win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course July 22.
"The good thing for us is that we've been winning races. The unfortunate part is that Dario is still on the podium taking second or third. Coming off of three straight wins, you think you'd be in the championship lead or would've cut a lot more into a lead. It's frustrating on our behalf and I'm sure it's frustrating on theirs. Every time they've tried to stiffen up, we've been able to do a little bit better.
"The championship is normally a little more defined that this point, but for us, we've had a good comeback in the last three races. We closed the big gap Dario had from 65 points down to 24, so I think Kentucky will be a key place for us to close in on the championship. That's why we're here testing. We have Michigan in between and that's always a hard race to decide how it's going to go, because it's big-pack racing and just about anybody can win it. "
The Australian-born Dixon owns a total of three wins, 10 top-five and 11 top-10 finishes through 12 of 17 events this season. The 2003 series champion earned two of his three wins on road courses this season and said that while his recent success gives him confidence heading into a road course race in Sonoma, Calif., and a street course race on Belle Isle, Mich., he expects stout competition from Franchitti during the series stretch run.
"My recent run kind of helps my confidence, but the only down side to that is that I think I'd rather be racing someone else in the championship. If it's going to be a two-horse race, Dario is probably the hardest guy to have it with. Road courses are going to be the defining part. Dario's efficiency is the road courses. I hope that history doesn't go the way it has the past few years where the Indy 500 winner wins the championship. That's a streak we're going to try to stop."
Dixon can take a step toward ending that streak in the "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Edy's" on a track where he has earned two second-place finishes in four career starts compared to Franchitti's two top-10 performances in three career starts.
"I'm looking forward to Kentucky because we had a good result last year with second place. We had a bit of a bad restart and Hornish, Jr., got past us and went on to win. Today will be a very productive day to help the fight for the championship" Dixon said.
Andretti Green Racing driver Tony Kanaan also turned test laps today and said he is watching the championship battle between his teammate and Dixon awaiting an opportunistic moment that will help him decrease his 111-point championship deficit.
The 2004 series champion has earned two wins, eight top-five and eight top-10 finishes this season. "It's obviously getting very hard because Scott and Dario are running pretty strong, but I've been in this position before. One hundred eleven points seems like a lot, but there's 53 points in play in every race, so, if you win two races, it's right there. Obviously, you have rely on the results.
"I haven't given up. It's much easier to try to catch somebody than manage a lead. I've been in that position, so I have no pressure now. The pressure is on the two guys trying to win the championship. I have a lot less to lose than they do right now," Kanaan said.
His championship hope lies in the mix of tracks that make up the final five-race stretch of the season.
"It's a good mix with superspeedways and road or street courses at the end of the year. It's going to spice the championship up a little bit," Kanaan said. "The superspeedways are unpredictable sometimes, so we don't know who's going to win. Right now, you can't afford to have any mistakes. You've got to have the switch on and be right there; otherwise it's going to cost you the championship."
The Brazilia native added that he is greatly anticipating a return to Kentucky Speedway where he has brought in two top-five and three top-10 finishes in four appearances.
"Kentucky is a good track, I've had great results here. I've never won, but having a test like this today is going to help. I'm looking forward to coming back. It's a beautiful track, there are exciting finishes here all the time and I don't see any reason anything is going to be different." Wheldon, the 2005 series champion, will roll into the Aug. 5 race at Michigan International Raceway fourth in the series standings and 117 points off the championship pace after raking in two wins, five top-five and nine top-10 finishes this season.
He also will look to Kentucky Speedway to provide a spark to his championship hopes when he attempts to extend his top-five finish streak at the track to three and his top-10 finish streak to four Aug. 11.
"This has been a good track for me personally and I would assess from last year that the Chip Ganassi cars were pretty competitive," he said. "If the situation had worked out a little better, we could've possibly had a one-two here. That's history. The main thing now is that we continue to improve the car.
"I wouldn't write my championship chances off yet, but it would be very difficult, so anything we can do to help Scott and benefit the team is something we would put a lot of effort into. I think it will be a very good end to the season. I'm just going to try to win as many of these last few races and possible. Certainly Michigan and Kentucky would be a good way to get the season back on track. It's been a very difficult season for me in some regards. I enjoy this track and am looking forward to a good result," Wheldon said.
The fifth and final 2007 Kentucky Speedway race weekend begins Friday, Aug. 10 with "Radio Disney AM 680 Fanfest." Fanfest will include IndyCar Series and Indy Pro Series practice sessions, Radio Disney family activities and an infield autograph session. Gates open at 3:00 p.m., for Fanfest, cars are on the track for practice sessions throughout the afternoon, IndyCar Series qualifying takes place at 6:15 p.m. and the infield will open at 7:30 p.m.
The fun continues Aug. 11 when speedway gates open at 2:00 p.m. The first 3,000 children age 12 and younger to pass through the gates will receive a free Horsepower mascot bobblehead doll, Radio Disney family activities will continue on the speedway main concourse and lead up to a 4:30 p.m. concert with Radio Disney favorites The Jonas Brothers. IndyCar Series stars will take to the 1.5-mile tri-oval at 6:30 p.m., for "The Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Coca-Cola and Edy's." Disney actor Josh Hutcherson will be the race grand marshal. The Indy Pro Series will conclude the day with the "Kentucky Indy Pro 100" at 9:00 p.m.
Tickets for both days are still available and can be reserved through the tickets pages of this Web site, online at www.tickets.com or by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223). Fans also can reserve tickets through Tickets.com outlets including Meijer stores as well as the speedway ticket offices at 2216 Dixie Hwy., Ste. 200, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., and the speedway Fan Center off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 in Sparta, Ky.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
~ Kentucky Speedway ~