Dixon emerging as new title rival for Castroneves (VIDEO)

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With the Honda Indy Toronto in the books, Helio Castroneves continues to lead the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. But his rear view mirrors are starting to fill up with the “Target red” of Scott Dixon.

And that’s the main focus for “The Iceman,” who now sits just 29 points behind Castroneves after completing a weekend sweep at Exhibition Place this afternoon. When NBC Sports Network’s Kevin Lee mentioned the $100,000 bonus he’d won for taking both races in the doubleheader, Dixon instead talked about the bigger picture.

“One hundred grand is good, but I’d rather take the points,” said Dixon after his third consecutive triumph in an eight-day span. “The points are what we’re here for…We’ll narrow it down and try to go for [the championship].”

Dixon has the momentum, and it bears noting that the next IndyCar race is at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 4, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network), where he is the two-time defending race champion and a four-time winner in his career.

And that could mean trouble for Castroneves, who had a relatively strong weekend in Toronto with a sixth-place finish on Saturday and a runner-up finish today. Even so, he couldn’t help but marvel at Dixon’s brilliance.

“[Dixon] was in another league,” Castroneves said to NBCSN. “I was pushing as hard as I could and I had a very good car, don’t get me wrong. But…Whatever he’s having for breakfast, I want it. Man, that was something.”

Castroneves had one final chance to get past Dixon on the last restart of the day with two laps to go but was unable to pull it off.

“I only had one “push to pass” [overtake] and I was trying to be smart with using the push-to-pass to keep up with Scott,” he said. “I was going for it, but in the end, it was really hard and Scott was smart. He’s not a rookie. We gotta work but we’re very happy with a good second-place.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto troubles continued for Ryan Hunter-Reay, who fell to third in the championship after contact with Will Power on that particular restart sent him into the wall near Turn 1. As a result of his 19th place finish, RHR is now 69 points behind Castroneves in the title race.

Three events ago, he had been just nine points behind him.

“Will was coming out from the bottom and I had a good run around the outside and I was right next to him,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN. “He was sliding across and when I talked to him in the [medical car] that took us back, he said he got loose on the bottom and he just drove right up into us.

“There’s two lanes going through there and everybody kind of respects that. I don’t think he drove into me on purpose, but it took us out of the race.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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