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Dixon, Franchitti likely to duke it out for title

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - This year's battle for the IndyCar Series championship is turning out to be a tight one, and team owner Chip Ganassi couldn't be more pleased.

Ganassi's drivers, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, are at the head of the class with seven races remaining in the season. After his victory on the streets of Toronto, Franchitti reclaimed the lead in the series rankings. Dixon fell two points behind his teammate after finishing fourth.

Before his exodus to NASCAR, Franchitti won the 2007 IndyCar title in a thrilling conclusion to the season.

Franchitti, who drove for Andretti Green Racing in '07, held a 47-point lead after the 10th race of the year, but had to finish ahead of Dixon in the season-finale at Chicagoland to claim his first championship. The two battled all the way to the final lap, with Franchitti taking the checkered flag and Dixon coming in second.

Scott Dixon entered this season as the heavy favorite to win the championship.
Last year, Franchitti's foray in NASCAR did not go as well as expected, as he finished no better than 22nd in 10 Sprint Cup Series starts. His team ceased operations in the middle of the season after sponsorship could not be secured.

Franchitti returned to IndyCar last September when he joined Ganassi's team and paired with Dixon.

With three wins already under his belt in 2009, Franchitti's reappearance in America's most popular open-wheel circuit has proven to be a huge success. Two of his wins have come on street/road courses.

Edmonton City Centre Airport, a 1.96-mile, 14-turn course, hosts the next series event in two weeks. Dixon won the inaugural race at the Canadian track last year.

"I don't think there's a better thing than to be fighting for the championship than with your teammate," Franchitti said. "One week Scott is going to be better than me, and (the next week) I'm going to be better than him. We'll go out there and we'll have fun and we'll go racing and we'll try and beat each other."

Dixon entered this season as the heavy favorite to win the championship. He won his second title in convincing style last year, scoring a season record- tying six victories, including the Indianapolis 500. If Dixon can win this year's championship, he would become just the second driver in series history to win consecutive titles. Sam Hornish Jr. first did it from 2001-02.

However, Dixon's road to a repeat title started on a rough note, as he finished 15th and 16th in the first two road-course events of the season - St. Petersburg, FL and Long Beach, CA.

"You always want to make sure that the team can keep its points throughout the season," Dixon said. "So you're racing your teammates more than some of the others. We're all going to have bad days, and I had two on the road courses earlier in the year."

Since Long Beach, Dixon has won three times and finished no worse than sixth.

Meanwhile, Ryan Briscoe continues to be a perennial threat for the title. Briscoe is 13 points behind Franchitti after recording his fifth second-place finish in the last six races.

"I'm trying to win, but I'm just getting these second places." Briscoe said.

Briscoe's teammate, Helio Castroneves, has faded in the championship race since his victory in the May 24 Indianapolis 500. Castroneves, who missed the season-opener at St. Petersburg due to his federal income tax evasion trial, moved to within five points of the lead after Indy. But the Team Penske driver now finds himself 78 points back, resulting primarily from a 17th-place finish at Richmond and 18th at Toronto.

While Briscoe continues to make it a three-man race for the championship, the next seven races play right into Dixon and Franchitti's hands, with this year's season-finale at Homestead on October 10 shaping up to be another shootout for the title.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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