The dog days of summer are here, and they are made even more intense for the IndyCar Series by a sequence of seven races in seven weeks. Next stop: Nashville Superspeedway, for the Firestone Indy 200 (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2), event No. 4 in that seven-race span.
Looking for motivation to write a creative race preview, the answer came in the form of a fortune cookie. "You are a kind and trustworthy soul," claimed the little slip of paper tucked inside. "Lucky Numbers: 5, 35, 11, 47, 32, 15."
This championship is still very open. There's 50 points available at every race and all we can try to do is win every race possible to try and close the gap.
Those who know me well might debate "kind and trustworthy," but I immediately found clairvoyance in the lucky numbers. The vision was crystal clear.
" 11 -- Tony Kanaan is fired up. The driver of the No. 11 Andretti Green Racing entry was in an unhappy mood all weekend at Watkins Glen International, as anecdotally evidenced by the animated 20-minute conversation he had with team owner Michael Andretti in the center of the paddock Saturday afternoon. The pair might have been out of earshot, but body language speaks volumes.
Kanaan's bubbling emotions boiled over Sunday evening after the race when he tried to drive rival Sam Hornish Jr. into the pit wall, in retaliation for a mid-race bumping incident. The ensuing shouting and shoving match landed open-wheel racing in the headlines -- for all the wrong reasons -- and both drivers were fined an undisclosed amount by the Indy Racing League.
TK is at his best when his hackles are raised, and that's why I'm making him the favorite for this weekend's 200-lapper at Nashville. The 32-year-old Brazilian has won on Nashville's concrete surface before, and he needs to start making up ground now on the 75-point deficit between himself and his championship-leading teammate, Dario Franchitti.
"This championship is still very open," Kanaan said. "There's 50 points available at every race and all we can try to do is win every race possible to try and close the gap.
"I won at Nashville before -- I have a [Gibson] guitar," he added, referring to the unique trophy awarded to Nashville race winners. "The wife is about to have a baby, so I'm looking for another guitar I can play with my son."
" 47, 35 -- Franchitti holds a 47-point lead in the IndyCar Series championship over Target/Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon. But the Scotsman's lead could drop to 35 points under a couple of circumstances -- like if Dixon wins the race and Franchitti finishes third, but leads the most laps. Or if Dixon takes fourth place, with Dario 10th.
Both racers are former Nashville winners, but they will be operating under different agendas this weekend. It's pretty much a win-or-bust weekend for Dixon, whose last oval-track victory came on Nashville's concrete a year ago.
Franchitti, who was victorious at Nashville in 2005, could already be transitioning into a defensive championship mode, even if he doesn't want to admit it.
"It's too early to think about that," he said. "We had some problems in the pits last week that we need to work on, but the Canadian Club car has been good on the shorter ovals so far this year.
"Nashville is my home track, so I hope we can have a successful weekend and gain some of the points back in the championship we lost to Dixon in Watkins Glen."
" 15, 5 -- Former Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice has shown improved form recently in Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's No. 15 entry, logging three consecutive top-six finishes. Rice claimed the pole at Nashville while driving for Rahal Letterman Racing in 2004, but a sixth-place finish that year is his best result on the 1.33-mile oval.
That team's second driver, Sarah Fisher, is due for a change in fortune in the No. 5 car. Fisher has landed some nice sponsorship deals this year (AAA Hoosier Motor Club and Aamco Transmission), but she has finished in the top 10 only twice with a best result of seventh in the Iowa Speedway crashfest. Much more comfortable on an oval than on the Watkins Glen road course, Fisher should compare favorably to her female counterparts -- Danica Patrick and Milka Duno.
" 32 -- The number of Firestone Firehawk tires each driver will receive to use throughout the two-day Nashville weekend. Conserving those eight sets of rubber is more important at Nashville than at any other oval the IndyCar Series races at because of the abrasive, concrete track surface.
Bridgestone/Firestone's U.S. headquarters is in Nashville, so it's an important race for the tire manufacturer.
"Nashville Superspeedway's concrete surface offers a unique test for our race-tire engineers, but that's what we're here for -- to overcome challenges and continually develop and produce technologically advanced tires that meet varying demands under different circumstances," said Al Speyer, Firestone Racing's executive director. "To be able to showcase the performance of our race tires in front of a packed house that includes thousands of our Middle Tennessee teammates, family and friends is truly fantastic."
Other drivers to watch that the fortune cookie apparently forgot:
Hornish, who has never won at Nashville but has finished on the podium three times in six races; his Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, with four top-5s at Nashville in five starts; Ganassi's Dan Wheldon, last year's Nashville runner-up; and Rahal Letterman's Scott Sharp, who could crack the top six in the championship standings with a solid finish Saturday night.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.