Title Contenders Riding Waves
September 1, 2009 | 11:37 P.M. EST
As in past years, the driver championship this season has been another thrilling ride. Briscoe took a 25-point lead over Franchitti and is now 33 points ahead of Dixon going to the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi September 19.
Briscoe has won the past two races on 1.5-mile ovals by some of the series' shortest margins of victory. "I just have to stay focused and try to beat these guys," Briscoe said. "Japan and Homestead, they're going to be tough races."
Dixon has posted third- and fourth-place finishes the past two years at Twin Ring Motegi, while Briscoe was ninth in 2008 among his two races. 2007 was Franchitti's advanced four spots to finish third in his last trip (2007) on the 1.5-mile oval. Dixon won from the pole at Homestead in 2008, when it was the season opener in March.
That victory - one of a series record-tying six - set Dixon up to earn his second IndyCar Series title by 13 points over Team Penske's Helio Castroneves. Dixon had 43-point advantage last year with two races remaining. In fact, he led Franchitti by four points after 15 of 17 races in 2007, too.
"It's definitely not a remake of the 2008 championship," said Dixon, who has four victories this year. "I'm happy we're in the chase because it's been a very up and down season, but it's a definitely a different situation because we're chasing instead of being chased.
"I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully there will be a lot of pressure on Ryan and we can keep that building. It's nice when you have a lot of points when you're leading and things keep going your way. But I think when you're being chased and it's still really close - as it was in 2007 with me and Dario - it's a lot of pressure and you really start to see things change in the last two races."
Maybe no one told Briscoe he's supposed to be feeling the weight of being the front-runner. The Team Penske driver, who beat Dixon to the checkered flag Aug. 29 at Chicagoland Speedway by 0.0077 of a second (the fourth-closest finish in IndyCar Series history), was cool in the sweltering midtown Miami humidity.
"It's just really exciting for me to be in this position," said Briscoe, who has paired three victories with seven runner-up finishes and double-digit bonus points (for earning race pole positions and leading the most laps) in his second season with Team Penske. "At this point, it's a highlight in my career. I feel really good going into the last two races and that we can really take it to both Scott and Dario."