Sixteen races and the Indy Racing League has again come down to the final 200 laps, this time on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Defending series champion Scott Dixon, one of the greatest drivers of his generation, leads the standings by five points over Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti -- the 2007 champ - who returned to the sport this season after an aborted NASCAR bid.
Ryan Briscoe, who finally has put together the type of season that team owner Roger Penske foresaw when he gave him one of the best -- but most pressurized -- seats in racing two years ago, is eight points back in third.
Together they've won 12 of 16 races this season, breaking off into their own high-speed podium midway through the season. The winner among them on Saturday could very likely leave Miami with the trophy they've been chasing since April. There won't be much mystery as to what the task entails. So how do they match up?
Dixon: 29Franchitti: 36Briscoe: 28
Dixon: 2008, 2003Franchitti: 2007Briscoe: None
Dixon: 21 (series record)Franchitti: 12Briscoe: 5
Dixon: 2008 Indianapolis 500 winnerFranchitti: 2007 Indianapolis 500 winnerBriscoe: Fifth for Luczo-Dragon Racing in 2007.
Dixon: A third championship would tie him for the Indy Racing League's all-time record (with Sam Hornish Jr., who accomplished the feat for Team Penske) and burnish a three-year run of brilliance. Since 2007 he has a championship 15 of 50 races and captured the 2007 Indianapolis 500.
If only for a few more vapors of fuel, he might have held on to win the 2007 title and being going for three in a row, but Franchitti surpassed him on the last lap at Chicago to win the title by 13 points.
"That's just motor racing, unfortunately," Dixon said. "There's so many things that are just out of your reach. It just goes back to the whole combination and always there's a little bit of luck. It could have swung our way that day if there was maybe one more lap of yellow, it would have gotten us to the end or if we had saved a little bit of fuel it would have gotten us to the end. That's racing. You just have to deal. Sometimes its good to you and sometimes its pretty rough."
Franchitti: After a disappointing (he argues, learning) experience in NASCAR, he could enhance his solid credentials with two titles in three seasons. No one thought he forgot how to drive, but leaping right back to open wheel prominence has to be heartening for the veteran. His return and performance is also a boon for a regimen that has/is struggling to keep its stars back home in Indiana.
And the inner competition has been a boon for Ganassi.
"I've been lucky to have been part of some great groups of teammates," Franchitti said. "Tony [Kanaan] and I were [at Andretti Green Racing] for five years together. Tony was pushing me really hard and I pushed him really hard, but we were working together, and I think Scott and I are building a similar relationship in the fact that we're out there and we're pushing each and we're pushing the engineers and we're working together to really try and elevate the team.
"And I think Team Target's record speaks for itself. Scott won everything last year and the year before they were the one pushing me the hardest both in the IndyCar championship and the 500. He's hardcore, man. You gotta get up early in the morning to beat Dixie."
Briscoe: A first championship would be rife with validation for both he and team owner Roger Penske. Briscoe came to the United States as a former Formula One test driver and Ganassi's newly mined prospect in 2005, but his early career was marked by impatience, DNFs and a horrific accident in September, 2005 at Chicagoland Speedway that broke both clavicles, among other injuries, ultimately ending that chapter of his career. His second full-time IRL stint came with even more pressure with another of sport's marquee teams, as he was tabbed to replace Hornish Jr. when the series' then-all-time wins and championships (three) leader switched to Penske's NASCAR program.
Dixon: New ZealanderFranchitti: ScotBriscoe: Australian
Dixon: Wife, Emma, was a Welsh and English 800-meters champion and ran in the Commonwealth Games.Franchitti: Wife, Ashley Judd, is in movies or something.Briscoe: Fiancé, Nicole Manske, is a motorsports reporter for ESPN.
Dixon: Nothing like a motivated teammate to help move you through the field ...Franchitti: ... but at some point it has to become all about their personal aspirations.Briscoe: Helio Castroneves won't get near the championship trophy ... unless he plays the dutiful teammate and runs fighter escort. Not a bad wing man.
Dixon: ChampionFranchitti: SecondBriscoe: Third