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Dixon, Castroneves vying for IRL title

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FONTANA, Calif. -- Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves have been down this IndyCar Series road before, which means they know what to do Saturday night with a championship on the line.

Dixon, who leads Castroneves by 25 points, said he needs to resist the temptation to drive conservatively.

Castroneves needs to race full gas, as fast as his Chevrolet engine allows.

"Get to the lead as fast as I can, lead the most laps and win the race," he said.

There are 54 points available to a driver who can dominate an IndyCar Series race weekend, and Castroneves would do well to collect all of them. But regardless of what the Brazilian does here in the Los Angeles suburbs, he cannot win the championship if Dixon finishes fifth or better in Saturday night's MAVTV 500 (8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).

Much is at stake. Castroneves has been racing in IndyCar (or CART) since 1998, and he has never won a title. Sure, he would rather have the three Indianapolis 500 victories, but being crowned a season champion means a lot to him.

"I guess it proves you're a complete driver," he said. "At least that's how some people see it."

Castroneves, 38, does not really need to prove anything to anybody given his 28 career wins (12th on the all-time list) and 38 poles (sixth-best). He has won races in 13 of the past 14 seasons, poles in 11 of the past 12.

Castroneves has been down this title road plenty of times, finishing second in 2002 (to Sam Hornish Jr.) and 2008 (to Dixon). In both cases, the title was not secured until the final lap.

Castroneves' hopes are buoyed this weekend by having the fastest car in last month's test at this 2-mile track, and Chevrolet engines have produced more horsepower than its rival, Honda, on IndyCar's larger tracks.

But, this is Dixon he is racing against, and Dixon knows titles.

The 33-year-old Kiwi is in an every-five-year run. He won his first championship in 2003, his second in '08. This would be No. 3, although he is not concerned about statistics until his career is over, which is not anywhere in his view.

"They're very difficult to come by because the competition, especially the past couple of years, has been through the roof," he said. "But it can be detrimental if you start thinking too much or overanalyzing issues or things like that.

"For me, those are stats that you can look back on when you're not racing anymore. Hopefully you've achieved what you felt you should have achieved."

Dixon never thought this title would be within his reach. He was 92 points behind Castroneves when the series went to Pocono Raceway in early July, and that was not supposed to be a track where his Honda would excel. But it did, mostly on better fuel mileage.

Dixon led a 1-2-3 Ganassi finish, with Charlie Kimball second and Dario Franchitti third. Dixon went on to sweep the doubleheader in Toronto the next week and completely turned the tables on Castroneves two weeks ago in Houston when he won the first race and finished second in the other as Castroneves had gearbox issues in each. That was a 74-point swing.

Castroneves said he has not thought twice about the Houston debacle because the pursuit of a title is far from over. He considers Auto Club Speedway his best track outside of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I agree with you, one hundred percent," he said. "And it's everything, not just the car setup looking good, the engine side, too. We feel Chevy has a little bit of an upper hand here.

"So, that's the good side of it, and I should have won here last year, too."

Team Penske even took the extraordinary step of adding an extra car, driven by AJ Allmendinger, in case he can finish ahead of Dixon and take points away from him. Every position matters.

This is the eighth consecutive year that the IndyCar Series title comes down to the last race. Both Dixon and Castroneves expect it to come down to the last lap.

Last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay secured the title when Will Power, who had crashed in the first half of the race, could not gain enough points to keep the Floridian from capturing his first title.

That separation was three points. This one could be that close, too.
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