Through four oval races on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, Dixon has 151 points after finishing sixth in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 presented by Pioneer on June 20. Franchitti, the reigning series champion, led a field-high 69 laps and was looking to pad his points lead. But a gearbox issue with 50 laps remaining left the Indianapolis 500 champion in 18th place.
But, he added: "We can't afford to be giving points away."
He knows that all too well. For the past four seasons, the overall championship has been decided in the final race. Franchitti has been involved in two (winning in 2007 and '09; both times outpacing Dixon).
Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe, the third man in the overall championship chase last year, is third in the A.J. Foyt Oval Championship standings with 137 points. Tony Kanaan, who won at Iowa Speedway in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car for Andretti Autosport, is fourth with 135 points. Team Penske's Helio Castroneves is fifth (121), while teammate Will Power - the overall points leader by 11 over Dixon - is eighth (102).
Franchitti is third (260) in the overall championship, Castroneves (251) is fourth and Briscoe (240) fifth.
"I know I'm 23 points behind so it makes the championship a little bit tight," said Castroneves, who was runner-up to Kanaan at Iowa. "That's what we're looking for."
The initial four oval races were run on a diverse lineup (2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1.5-mile high-banked Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, .875-mile Iowa Speedway). The three-pack of ovals (the season finale Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway doesn't count in the standings) will be on 1.5-mile tracks, but each has characteristics that create challenges for drivers and engineers alike.
Next on the schedule are five road/street/airport circuits, beginning with the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen on July 4. Dixon is a three-time winner on the 3.4-mile natural-terrain course. Power is the points leader through four of the nine races to determine the road course champion. The Indy car legend who will be honored with that award will be announced during The Glen weekend.
2. Teams gear up for road races with tests: On the way to South Central New York for the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen (only another 312 miles), five IZOD IndyCar Series teams will stop off June 30 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a road course refresher.
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance on Aug. 8 at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio course is the fourth in a five-race road/street/airport circuit stretch that commences July 4 at Watkins Glen International. Teams are coming off four consecutive oval events.
"For us, it's a good opportunity," said Vitor Meira, who recorded a seventh-place finish June 20 at Iowa Speedway in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing. "We don't get to test very much and in a season you have to pick your fights. It's hard to focus on one; there are so many - road courses, street courses, ovals big and small -- there's always room to improve.
"Where we think we have more to improve on is road courses. That's why we're going to Mid-Ohio. We're testing before we go to Watkins Glen and before Mid-Ohio and Infineon so we'll have the benefit of that day for many races."
Meira is scheduled to be joined by IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske; Alex Lloyd and Milka Duno of Dale Coyne Racing; Raphael Matos of de Ferran Dragon Racing; and Adam Carroll, who will be undergoing his road course rookie test in anticipation of making his series debut with Andretti Autosport at The Glen. The facility will not be open to spectators.
Additionally, Dreyer & Reinbold's Justin Wilson was scheduled to get in laps on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval (weather permitting) on June 22-23 and Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti are scheduled to test at Sebring International Raceway on June 28.
"We haven't tested on an oval yet; we've just gone from race to race and there's a limited amount you can do on a race weekend," said Wilson, driver of the No. 24 Z-Line Designs car. "We just wanted to go there and learn some things. Once we get into the road courses in the second part of the season you don't want to change the car back, so it just fits in really well to do it now. "
Because of the cancelation of the Open Test at Kentucky Speedway on May 4, each full-season entrant has been granted an additional test day on a 1.5-mile oval at their discretion. They'll receive three sets of Firestone Firehawks. The sanctioning body also has worked with Infineon Raceway to make Aug. 13 available for testing. Race day on the 2.245-mile course is Aug. 22.
3. Fisher joins campaign against drugged driving: IZOD IndyCar Series team owner/driver Sarah Fisher joined Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator David Strickland on June 22 in Washington to kick off the national Anti-Drugged Driving Campaign.
"Americans are familiar with the terrible consequences of drunk driving and the dangers posed by texting or talking on a cell phone while driving," Kerlikowske said. "Now, as we approach the Fourth of July, one of the busiest periods on the nation's roads, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is teaming up with public- and private-sector partners across the nation to raise awareness of the dangers of another important public safety issue --drugged driving."
Fisher, who also taped a Public Service Announcement with Kerlikowske to be aired in the days leading up to the Fourth of July, addressed her message specifically to young people.
"Several studies have shown that too many young people get behind the wheel of a car after smoking marijuana or taking drugs," Fisher said. "They need to make smarter and safer decisions. I have been a professional race car driver since I was a teenager, and I can tell you that whether you are driving 20 mph on a city street or 220 mph at the Indy 500, you don't want to have impaired judgment or slow reaction time. To be safe, you need to be at your best."
ONDCP is working to increase the number of states with effective drugged driving laws.