The IndyCar Series champion will be crowned at Chicagoland Speedway for the third consecutive season as Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves take their increasingly close battle down to the wire on Sunday.

Dixon leads the standings by a seemingly impenetrable 30 points but, as Castroneves has shown in the last two races, he is far from giving up on his dream of a first title, having slashed the Kiwi's advantage from 78 just two races ago.

Neither driver has won at the 1.5-mile oval, but Dixon has finished second three times in five starts there, including last year's finale, when he ran out of fuel in the final turn of the final lap, allowing recently-confirmed 2009 team-mate Dario Franchitti to slide by and take the crown. Castroneves, meanwhile, has three consecutive top-four finishes at Chicagoland, including a second place in 2005, but his average finish in six starts is 7.3, while Dixon, over the same number of events, can boast a marginally better record of 6.4.

Too close to call? Maybe, but Dixon will point to his dominance on 1.5-mile ovals this season, having Dixon has built his lead in the championship with a record-tying six victories, including wins from the pole on the 1.5-mile ovals at Homestead-Miami, Texas and Kentucky. He also finished third on the 1.5-mile ovals at Motegi and Kansas and, over those five races, has led 522 of 1028 laps a shade over fifty per cent.

"I think Chicago's going to be very tough," the Ganassi man insisted, "It's a tough circuit - one of those that provide great racing - and is definitely nail-biting for a championship race, which is exactly what the fans want and everybody that's watching. I guess they'll definitely get that.

"I think, for me, it's been a mixed bag in [terms] of how we've done there and things like that. To never have won there is definitely frustrating, so we're hoping that we can definitely turn that around this weekend. But there's a lot of other people that are going to be trying to do the same thing.

"The mile-and-a-half ovals throughout this year have been very tough, with almost ten more cars on the track than we had last year. If you make any little mistake, it makes it that much worse, so we still have to finish extremely well. But I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to get there."

Castroneves has dogged the Kiwi all season, cutting 48 points from his deficit in the past two races despite losing his primary car - and his favourite seat - to a transporter fire ahead of the Infineon Raceway round two weekends ago. The Brazilian is the only driver with 14 top-five finishes in the season's first 16 races, but only earned his first victory of 2008 at Infineon, as his Penske team bounced back from adversity in eh best possible fashion. Including last weekend in Detroit, he also has a record eight second-place finishes, which have gone a long way to keeping him in touch with Dixon.

"I still think we've got a sizable lead," Dixon claimed, "It's definitely a lot better than last year's situation, where we went in trailing by about three points. Having a 30-point lead, Helio has to win the race, get most laps led, while we have to finish eighth or worse for him to win it. It's a lot for him to do.

"But I think we can quite easily see that that situation has happened already this season, he did it at Sonoma, so it's going to be hard for us to make sure we keep going on it. Going to the [type of] circuit where we've fared well in the past, both myself and Dan [Wheldon], it's looking pretty good. You've got to go in confident, and you've got to go in trying to win it.

"I think we've got to just keep doing what we've been doing all season, and that's trying to go out and win races. I think the only time that we haven't tried to do that, we got ourselves out of whack a little bit at Sonoma. That's definitely not the way we want to race.

"I want to go out there, try to qualify on pole and try to win the race. If you do that, you're definitely going to win the championship. Obviously, we want to beat one person, and that's Helio, but we want to do it in style. If we're able to go for a record seven victories in a single season, that's definitely what we're going to try to do. It won't be anything conservative from us."

Dixon admits, too, that having come so close to a second championship title last season made him all the more determined to succeed in 2008.

"I think it was the majority of it, to be honest," he said of his motivation, "The bad thing we had in 2007 is that we didn't really start out the season as strong as we probably should have. From that point on, I was playing catch-up, especially with a guy, Dario, that did such a fantastic season from the early part to the middle part and, definitely, at the end as well. It was tough for us to close it down.

"I think it was more the fact of the way that we lost it. We had a fast car on the day and it came down to strategy a little bit, running out of fuel because we basically used too much. That was a tough way to deal with it after such a long season and the success that we had in coming down and closing that gap. To have it finish [determined by] maybe a cupful of gas was pretty tough. It was a big motivational thing for everybody this year."

Dixon versus Castroneves may be the headline battle, but it is not the only one with meaning this weekend. Deeper in the field, other fights are being equally hard fought. Just 17 points separate Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon for third place in the standings, and a difference of $50,000 in TEAM prize money is at stake.

Similarly, 49 points separate Danica Patrick, Oriol Servia, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Hideki Mutoh, Detroit winner Justin Wilson, Vitor Meira and Ed Carpenter for sixth through 13th, while Mutoh also holds a much reduced 13-point lead over Wilson for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honours, with Will Power 33 points behind in the battle for a $50,000 bonus.

Among the other storylines this weekend is Ryan Briscoe's first appearance at Chicagoland since a spectacular crash at the track in 2005 appeared to spell the end of his IndyCar career. Although the Australian was uninjured, it was his final race for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and he only made four starts for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and one with Luczo Dragon Racing over the next two years, before some stellar ALMS sportscar outings landed him a ride with Team Penske in 2008.

Finally, the Windy City will mark the end of a hectic season for the five teams and nine drivers that joined the IndyCar Series just weeks before the green flag dropped at Homestead-Miami. Chicago-based Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has earned two victories in its transition season, with Wilson coming up trumps for the first time last weekend, while KV Racing Technology's Oriol Servia currently ranks seventh in points. After this weekend, there will be no excuses of unfamiliar circuits and different machinery....


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