Dixon victory, Kanaan crash makes title a two-man race


LEBANON, Tenn. -- It's official. The 2007 IndyCar Series championship is down to a two-man battle between Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.

Dixon and Franchitti finished 1-2 Sunday in the rain-delayed Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway, combining to lead 193 of the 200 laps.

The result trimmed Franchitti's championship lead from 47 to 34 points. Dixon's Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon is the only other driver within 97 points of the No. 27 Andretti Green Racing ace with six races remaining in the season.

Franchitti led the first 88 laps but got bottled up in traffic on the one-groove concrete oval, losing momentum and positions to Dixon and Wheldon. Superior pit work elevated the Scotsman back to second place, but he didn't have enough down the stretch for Dixon, who won by 2.24 seconds.

Not bad for Dixon on what the taciturn New Zealander called "an average day."

"Our car was very consistent all day and just seemed to get stronger throughout the race and we had clean pit stops," Dixon said. "Once we got past that three-wide moment and got into the lead, we were able to pull clear of the rest of the guys.

I reckon I would have looked pretty stupid if I left the car in a smoking heap at the exit of Turn 2.

Dario Franchitti

"It's fantastic – exactly what we needed."

Dixon won his second consecutive race, and notched his second straight win at Nashville Superspeedway. He and Franchitti have won five of the past seven IndyCar Series races since the Indianapolis 500 in May.

In winning his ninth career IndyCar race, the 2003 series champion averaged a race-record 164.030 mph despite that Laps 96 to 108 were run behind the pace car because of light rain.

By then, AGR's Tony Kanaan -- consider a strong contender for the title this season -- was long gone, crashing out on the 36th lap while trying to lap Sarah Fisher. Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. missed the setup for the first stint before rebounding to finish fourth. They're 103 and 105 points behind, respectively.

A strong drive from Danica Patrick matched her career-best result with third place and she moved up to seventh in the overall series standings. But the focus after the race was the championship battle.

Franchitti's championship lead stood at 65 points after his win at Richmond International Raceway on June 24, but his rival has nearly cut it in half in the past two races.

"There is pressure because the two of us are starting to get away a little bit," observed Dixon. "It's nice to have a buffer, and 34 points is still a healthy margin. If he keeps running second, it's going to take until the end of season for us to try and pass him.

"Dario has been very consistent this year and he has been very fast on the road courses as well," he continued. "But I like being in this position. We kind of have nothing to lose now. We were a bit too conservative at the start of the season and got a run of second places and that's what is hurting us. Now we can just go as hard as we possibly can and go for race wins."

Franchitti certainly had the championship in mind when he didn't force the issue while trying to lap Ed Carpenter as the race approached the halfway point. Wheldon blew past on the outside, while Dixon took advantage on the inside.

"We've seen so many guys who get into the marbles who end up in the wall over the years here at Nashville," Franchitti said. "But we just got screwed in traffic all day today and I backed off rather than trying to make the big outside pass.

"I reckon I would have looked pretty stupid if I left the car in a smoking heap at the exit of Turn 2."

He acknowledged that the odds of anyone other than Dixon moving up to challenge for the title are remote.

"There's always that chance that someone can get in there but with Tony dropping points today, it seems to be shaping up more and more as a two-horse race between Scott and myself," Franchitti said. "The problem is there are probably six or seven cars that can win each race. You've got to beat those guys."

For his part, Dixon knows he needs to remain focused on beating Franchitti every week, beginning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course next Sunday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET). He realizes that he could use a bit of luck as well.

"We had two bad races this season," he said. "And not that I would wish bad luck on Dario, they're due for one. He and Andretti Green have been super-consistent this year. If they're not winning they are finishing second or third.

"So he's going to be very tough to beat."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.