Dixon's victory puts him in striking range

2011-09-24T11:00:00Z Dixon's victory puts him in striking rangeThe Associated Press The Associated Press
September 24, 2011 11:00 am  • 

MOTEGI, Japan -- Just when it looked like Dario Franchitti and Will Power would run away from the field in the race for the IndyCar championship, Scott Dixon got back in the mix with a win at the Indy Japan 300.

Dixon's victory in the last IndyCar event to be held in Japan moved the Target Chip Ganassi driver to within 59 points of Power with two races to go. Power finished second at Motegi to overtake the points lead from reigning champion Franchitti, who is in second place 11 points back.

Power and Franchitti still have a large advantage, but Dixon, who won the championship in 2003 and 2008, isn't about to concede anything just yet.

'Dario and Will have both had strong seasons, but we have been creeping up and staying within striking distance," Dixon said. 'I think sometimes that gets overlooked. We want this to be a three-horse race for sure."

It wouldn't be the first time a driver came from third place to win the championship with two races to go. Sam Hornish Jr. was third with two races left in 2002 and went on to win the championship, winning the last two events.

Dixon is hoping for a similar scenario this year.

'Hopefully everyone will continue to focus on those other two and we can sneak in under the radar and get to the front in these final two races," Dixon said. 'The Target cars have been strong on ovals this season and we're looking forward to finishing 2011 on a high note."

If there's one word that describes Dixon, it's consistent. In each of the past five years, the New Zealander is the only driver who has been in the top four with two races to go.

After a slow start, Dixon recorded his fifth podium finish and fourth in the past five races at Toronto in July, where he finished second.

He extended his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to seven when he won the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio last month for the 26th win of his Indy career. He tied Johnny Rutherford for 11th on the all-time list with his win in Japan, where he started from the pole and led for 62 of 63 laps.

While Dixon's win in Japan kept his title hopes alive, it was who finished second and eighth at Motegi that threw the championship race wide open.

Franchitti went into the race with a slim five-point lead over Power. But a poor qualifying effort put the No. 10 Ganassi Racing Dallara on the fifth row. The Scotsman's chances of holding onto the points lead took a major hit when he made contact with the right-rear of Ryan Briscoe's Team Penske car entering Turn 1 on the 26th lap.

Race officials levied an avoidable contact penalty on the reigning series champion, sending him to the rear of the field before he worked his way back to finish eighth.

'It was a stupid move on my part," said Franchitti. 'I did a lot of hard work to get from ninth to fifth, and I'd been saving fuel the whole first stint. I thought there was a gap and Ryan was going wide on the entry and that was that."

Power, who started from the front row, couldn't catch Dixon but was able to do the next best thing by finishing ahead of Franchitti.

'I just need to keep finishing in front of (Franchitti) the rest of the way and we'll be fine," Power said. 'We'll keep chipping away like we have been."

The last two races of the season are on 1.5-mile ovals. Franchitti has two wins on ovals this season compared to one for Power. But the Australian driver, who is bidding for his first championship, is confident about his chances at the last two tracks.

'Ovals, that's what I enjoy the most racing, mile-and-a-half racing, Chicagoland last year, Texas this year," Power said. 'Even Kentucky last year we were really strong, just didn't end up with the result. We're pretty focused on that this year."

Franchitti held a 47-point advantage before Power won the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 28, and the gap narrowed further at the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 4, where Power captured the pole and led for 70 of 75 laps in a runaway victory.

Whatever happens at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2, Dixon figures the championship will come down to the last race in Las Vegas on Oct. 16.

'The championship, I think going back to every year since 2006, has been decided in the last race so I don't think it's fair to count anyone out until the last lap of the season," Dixon said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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