Three races, three winners, and the new IndyCar Series points leader heading into the Indianapolis 500 isn't one of them, confirming the belief that the 2009 IRL campaign could be the closest yet.
Scott Dixon, winner of the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway over the weekend, made just such a call back in November - when he was still deciding where to display his second IndyCar Series championship trophy - and the Kiwi still finds himself playing catch up despite making it to winners' circle on Sunday.
Dixon, who got off to a rough start with disappointing results on the streets of St Petersburg and Long Beach, vaulted from 17th to fourth in the standings with his first victory in seven attempts at Kansas, but continues to trail new - and third different - points leader, Tony Kanaan, after the Brazilian continued a run that made him the only driver to finish in the top five in each of the first three races.
“You've got to come out of the box fighting, you've got to be strong, you've got to be consistent,” Dixon said, “I think that shows with [Kanaan] taking the points lead. He's been in the top five every race we've gone to, but still hasn't won.
“Consistency's definitely the key. You have to come out with your 'A game'. That's what makes this championship so tough to win. You've got so many great competitors, you've got big teams, fantastic drivers - and it's getting tougher each year.”
Four teams are represented in the top five of the standings – paced by Andretti Green Racing's #11 – and six in the top ten. Some 19 drivers have posted top ten finishes, while Kanaan holds a one-point lead over Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe, the winner at St Petersburg, and a four-point lead over Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi team-mate Dario Franchitti, the winner at, and points leader after, Long Beach.
The Kiwi, however, heads into the opening day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 next Wednesday not only as defending 500 champion, but with renewed spirit after the 0.7104secs victory over Penske's Helio Castroneves on Sunday.
“This is a big boost for my confidence, the team's confidence, and [gives us] a lot of momentum going into the Month of May, which is our biggest race,” he said.
Kanaan's third place in Kansas was followed by fifth, sixth and eighth respectively for team-mates Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh, marking the first time four Andretti Green cars finished in the top ten since Milwaukee in 2006. It was the second race in a row, however, where Kanaan, Patrick and Andretti finished in the top ten, underlining AGR's threat for Indianapolis after a 2008 campaign in which the team seemed at odds with itself.
“We're just really working hard towards what we need to do,” 2004 series champion Kanaan confirmed, “It's great momentum, but we have to turn the page and go to Indy. I think it makes us feel good that we had good races, but that doesn't mean anything. We're going to start from zero from now on.”