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TOP 3 TITLE CONTENDERS: HOW THEY GOT HERE
A look at the drivers who are 1-3 in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings heading into the Aug. 30 championship-deciding GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course that carries double base points:
Juan Pablo Montoya
How he got here: Consistency. Montoya won the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and has stood atop the standings since the March 29 race.
Season stats: Two victories among five podium finishes and nine top fives. … Has led in eight of the 15 races for 145 total laps. … Best finish of first (St. Petersburg, Indianapolis 500); low finish of 24th (Iowa Speedway; contact on Lap 10). … Average start 6.5; average finish 6.9.
At Sonoma Raceway: Started 19th and finished fifth in 2014 in his lone Indy car start. Led four laps. … Also competed at Sonoma Raceway in NASCAR, winning in 2007.
Of note: Coming off third-place finish Aug. 23 after qualifying season-low 19th at Pocono Raceway. … Montoya won the 1999 CART championship on a tiebreaker (seven wins to three for Dario Franchitti). … Has 14 wins, 15 poles and 33 top-five finishes in 74 Indy car starts. ... In his second season with Team Penske.
He said it: “(It’s the) same thing as every week: Go out there and do the best we can and see what happens. It's double points, so it's open for anything. I feel if we run a smart day all day, we'll be fine.”
How he got here: Surge. Rahal was fifth in the championship standings following a 23rd-place finish at Belle Isle 1 on May 30. He returned the next day to finish third on the street circuit, which flicked the switch of six top-10 finishes (including two wins) over seven races.
Season stats: Two victories among six podium finishes and eight top fives. … Has led in six races for 76 total laps. … Best finish of first (Auto Club Speedway, Mid-Ohio); low finish of 23rd (Belle Isle 1). … Average start of 11.3; average finish of 7.9.
At Sonoma Raceway: Has best start of sixth and best finish of fifth in seven races. … Has been running at the finish in six of the starts. … Led 18 laps in 2014 race.
Of note: First season in which he’s competing for the series championship. Fifth in 2007 Champ Car and seventh in 2009 Verizon IndyCar Series are season highs. … Has three wins, two poles and 31 top-five finishes in 143 Indy car career starts. ... Will seek to make his 91st consecutive start. ... Third season driving for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which is co-owned by his father Bobby.
He said it: "At this point we have to go there to win, we have no other choice. In order to beat Montoya, we have no choice. We’re going to go all out, do the best we possibly can and see what happens. I still have a lot of confidence going into race weekend."
How he got here: He’s always here. Dixon started slowly in the first two races (15th- and 11th-place finishes), but leaped into fourth in the standings with victory at Long Beach. He’s had two finishes out of the top 10 over the intervening 12 races.
Season stats: Two victories among three podium finishes and six top fives. … Earned two poles (Indianapolis 500, Mid-Ohio). … Has led in nine races for total of 272 laps. … Best finish of first (Long Beach, Texas); low finish of 20th (Belle Isle 2 – contact). … Has been running at the finish in 14 of the 15 races. … Average start of 5.9; average finish of 8.1.
At Sonoma Raceway: Won in 2014 after qualifying third. Led three laps. Also won in 2007 and was runner-up in 2010. … Has led in five of 10 races for 87 laps total.
Of note: The three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion is seeking 10 consecutive seasons in which he’s finished in the top three of the standings. … With 37 victories, which is fifth on the all-time list, he is the active leader. … Will seek to make his 191st consecutive Indy car start. ... Longest-tenured driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
He said it: "Sonoma is huge for us from the standpoint that it’s Target’s biggest race, too. It’s a fantastic race and it’s been very exciting there the last few years. For us to win last year was really cool. It was kind of our turnaround on the season to try to regain some strength on what started out to be a pretty slow start to the year. I’m excited that Team Target is still in contention for the championship with this being a double points race. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating with a lot of wine in Victory Circle for a championship and a race victory.”