Vacation's over; resurgent Dixon looks to keep hot streak going at Mid-Ohio

  • Article by: WILL GRAVES , AP Sports Writer
  • Updated: August 2, 2013 - 5:46 PM

LEXINGTON, Ohio — Scott Dixon's vacation isn't much different than the vacations of most parents with young children.

A lot of running around. A lot of cleaning up. A lot of things to occupy your mind — and your time — other than work.

It was a welcome break for the two-time IndyCar champion, even if it came just as he was putting his early season doldrums firmly in the rearview mirror of his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Still, Dixon didn't complain when he went back to work on Friday to prep for this weekend's Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Momentum is a funny thing. He enjoyed hopping around North America with his wife, Emma, and daughters Poppy and Tilly, sure. That didn't mean he wasn't worried his climb up the standings would somehow fizzle after spending two weeks outside the cockpit.

"You get into thinking, 'Well are we making sure we're keeping up with things? Are we going to go to the next track with an edge?'" Dixon said. "But you've just got to go in confident and try to approach it the same we do every other time."

Things certainly looked normal as Dixon posted the fastest time in the morning session around the tricky 2.258-mile road course. Then again, maybe it should. Dixon has stood atop the podium at the 13-turn test of nerves four times since 2007. It's a testament to the speed his team has been able to find and his ability to keep moving forward.

Mid-Ohio may be the tightest course in the series. Room to pass is more rumor than fact. Qualifying near the front is at a premium. So is being able to defend your position. Few do it better than Dixon.

At least, when everything is clicking. For large stretches during the first half of 2013, it didn't as one of IndyCar's most consistent teams struggled, at least by their lofty standards.

On the weekends Dixon felt he had a good car, something would happen. His gearbox busted at Texas in June and he wound up 23rd. Engine woes at Iowa two weeks later send him spiraling to a 16th-place finish.

Frustrating isn't quite the right word for it. Infuriating might be better for a driver who hadn't finished outside the top four in the championship since 2006.

Things began to turn around at Pocono on July 7, at least from a karma standpoint. As they have on ovals all season, Dixon and teammate Dario Franchitti were markedly slow during qualifying, their Hondas failing to produce the horsepower and the speed of the Chevy engines driven by rivals at Andretti Autosport and Team Penske.

Savvy, however, not speed ruled the day. Able to stretch out their gas mileage, Dixon and Franchitti were able to revive their seasons. Dixon strolled to victory and Franchitti placed third.

Dixon made sure to get a picture taken with perpetually cranky owner Ganassi in the giddy aftermath because "it was the first time we'd seen him smile in a while." The smile only grew broader the next weekend. Following an energizing test at Sebring in the middle of the week, Dixon swept a pair of races at Toronto. He pulled away from Sebastien Bourdais on Saturday, then led 81 of 85 laps a day later.

It was the kind of dominating performance that's the standard at TGR. Asked what exactly happened during his midweek trip to Florida and Dixon grins and shakes his head.

"Everybody is pointing out this whole Sebring test like it was miraculous," he said. It wasn't, though Dixon does allow that it "did kind of put our head back on straight."

That head is now pointing directly at Helio Castroneves.

While Dixon stresses it's still too early to start thinking about the big picture, he trails the popular Brazilian by just 26 points with a third of the schedule remaining. The 92-point deficit he faced after Iowa suddenly seems a lot more manageable.

Just don't expect Dixon to spend a lot of time this weekend searching for Castroneves' No. 3. It's still August. The season finale in California isn't for another two-plus months. There's time to either gain or give back ground no matter what happens on Sunday.

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