Give Scott Dixon an extra tenth-of-second or so at Chicagoland Speedway and the IndyCar Series championship race would have a different complexion.
Dixon was runner-up by 0.0077secs - the fourth-closest finish in series history - to Ryan Briscoe in the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 at the 1.5-mile oval on Saturday night, but his fourth consecutive second place at the circuit resulted in a ten-point swing for Dixon, leaving him 33 points back as Briscoe's third victory of the season - combined with the bonus point for the pole and two for most laps led - increased his championship advantage. Dario Franchitti, who finished fourth in the 200-lap race, is second in the standings with two races remaining, 25 points adrift of the Australian.
Dixon was also been among the title contenders in 2006-08, when Chicagoland Speedway hosted the IndyCar Series' finale, and each year he finished second -- by a grand total of 2.0369secs. That worked for the Kiwi in 2008, when he claimed the championship by 13 points over race winner Helio Castroneves but, a year earlier, he had needed to beat Franchitti in a winner-take-all race. That bid fell short when he ran out of fuel on the final turn of the final lap.
"I've seen this movie before several times, so it's frustrating," said Dixon, who was among the six drivers to swap the lead 18 times on Saturday, "I was thinking, maybe for a lap or two there, that we just might be able to do it. But, for the majority of the night, if it came down to that shootout, I think we definitely knew we were going to lose. It's getting pretty old, so hopefully we can turn it around at some point."
Twin Ring Motegi is up next, where Dixon has posted third- and fourth-place finishes the past two years. Briscoe was ninth in '08 among his two races, while Franchitti advanced four spots to third in his last trip on the 1.5-mile oval, back in 2007.
"Obviously we're still in the fight for the championship, but Ryan did another good job [at Chicagoland], and we're going to have to make something happen these next two races," the Scot said.
The 25-point differential between first and second is the fourth-closest with two races remaining in IndyCar Series history - as is the 33 points between Briscoe and Dixon. Castroneves was eliminated from title contention after crashing out at Chicagoland.
"We've seen how quickly [the championship lead] can turn around," said Briscoe, noting that there has been a different leader after 13 of the 15 events this season, "I just have to stay focused and try to beat these guys.
"Japan and Homestead are going to be tough races. I sort of got myself into a little bit of trouble [falling to mid-pack after an extended service stop midway through the Chicagoland race
), and we've got to try to avoid those instances and run consistent, stay at the front, and we'll see what we can do."