IndyCar: Can Ganassi team continue recent revival in Toronto?

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Last year’s Honda Indy Toronto was doubly good for Chip Ganassi Racing as Scott Dixon swept the weekend, completing a three-race win streak that set him off toward his third Verizon IndyCar Series title.

If recent performance is any indication, the Ganassi camp may be in for more celebrations in T.O. – where they’ve claimed four of the last six races.

Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, and Charlie Kimball have been unable to secure a win between them in 2014, but it would appear they’re on the verge to break through shortly.

Kanaan in particular has stepped up as of late, even though his results haven’t always reflected his pace.

He lost a podium in Houston Race 1 when Graham Rahal spun him out under the final caution. At Pocono, he led the most laps only to finish 11th when his fuel strategy failed to work out.

And last weekend at Iowa, he flat-out dominated before settling for third when Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden blazed past him on fresh tires in the final laps.

To say that Toronto has not been one of Kanaan’s better tracks may be an understatement. Although he’s come close to a couple of podiums (fourth in 2010 and 2012), he’s suffered 7 DNFs in 10 open-wheel starts there.

But with as much momentum as he’s had recently, we may be wise to not bet against him this weekend. Ditto for Ryan Briscoe, who has also built up some steam. The Australian has strung together five Top-10 finishes in the last six races.

Of course, both of them plus Dixon and Kimball want more. As I’ve written before, expectations are high at Ganassi and wins are what matter.

But you get the sense that after Kanaan and Briscoe’s processes of getting used to the team (in Briscoe’s case, re-used), things have settled. Everyone’s on the same page.

And these boys are about to make a lot of noise.

“I’m not going to say I’m extremely happy about it, but I am extremely satisfied with the way we’re doing things in the team,” Kanaan said after his near-miss in Iowa.

“A win is around the corner, for sure. We’re going to Toronto, a race that Dixon dominated last year, both doubleheaders.  We have high hopes there, trying to finish the season on a high note.”

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will air both races of the Honda Indy Toronto LIVE this Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “