Dixon kicks off oval season with a win

Waiting for the final green flag out of a caution, a few laps from the finish, Scott Dixon jokingly asked his crew if he could save some horsepower boosts for the Indianapolis 500 later this month.

Obviously, the answer was no.

The way Dixon kicked off IndyCar's oval season, he might not need them anyway.

Making few changes to a fast-off-the-truck car, Dixon cruised to his second straight IndyCar Series victory at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, firmly placing himself atop the list of favorites for the big race on the bricks.

"Success for us here has been fantastic and I just hope we can carry this momentum for another 30 days,'' Dixon said after his 22nd career IndyCar victory.

Loose early and fast the rest of the way, Dixon barely used his push-to-pass button. He led the final 150 of the 200 laps on the 1.5-mile oval and finished more then 3 seconds ahead of runner-up Dario Franchitti.

Dixon takes the early lead in IndyCar's new oval championship and becomes a front-runner for the Indy 500, a race he won in 2008. He's also the second straight repeat winner at Kansas, giving Target Chip Ganassi Racing four straight wins following Dan Wheldon's 2008 defense.

"He was just fast,'' said Tony Kanaan, who finished third despite a miserable day of qualifying that had him breaking stuff at the team trailer on Friday. "I wish I had some of it.''

Dixon got the season off to a decent start on the road courses.

He opened with a sixth in Brazil and followed a disappointing 18th at St. Petersburg with two top-five finishes, including a runner-up to Ryan Hunter-Reay in Long Beach two weeks ago.

All that was missing was a victory.

Back on the comfortable Kansas oval -- he's finished in the top four each of the past five races there -- Dixon was an uncatchable force.

The two-time IndyCar Series champ was fastest in the lone practice session Friday and lost a little speed in qualifying, though was still fast enough to start on the front row with pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe.

Dixon was strong from the opening green, escaping an early bobble to pass Briscoe on Lap 33, then holding his position through two pit stops, one on a green flag and another on a caution midway through the race. A final pit with 22 laps left went smoothly and had the added luck of being just before a caution after Jay Howard folded up the right side of his car with a slide into the wall.

Dixon used his horsepower-boosting pass button just a handful of times during the race, his car good enough to push him to the Kansas checkers and give him momentum into Indianapolis.

"He had just a little bit extra today,'' said Franchitti, Dixon's Ganassi teammate. "When I leave the truck today, I'm going to go try to find out what it is.''

Though Kansas is nothing like Indy, it is an oval and the last tuneup for the biggest race of the year.

A record 27 cars were in the field at Kansas and Indy figures to be wheel-to-wheel in a crowded field, so this was a chance to get the feel for running in traffic.

It also was an opportunity to see how the oval newbies -- Mario Romanicini, Takuma Sato, Simona De Silvestro and Bertrand Baquette -- would handle the high speeds and hold-your-line racing after four road-course races to start the season.

The inexperienced oval drivers were even warned during the morning drivers meeting about the end of runs, when low fuel loads and worn tires would hamper handling.

There were no major mishaps, only a loose-into-the-wall crash by E.J. Viso on Lap 72, Howard's crash and a restart wreck involving Japanese drivers Hideki Mutoh and Sato with 14 left.

The problems came from lapped cars, not the rookies.

Throughout the day but particularly late in the race, drivers trying to make up ground had trouble getting around cars no longer on the lead lap, needing several attempts to pass.

Helio Castroneves, who finished fourth, kept darting his car up and down the track in an attempt to get around Danica Patrick midway through the race, while Franchitti and Kanaan had to dodge slower cars while battling for second late.

"It's almost a respect thing and it's not just about the more experienced guys in the series,'' Franchitti said. "It's about whether the rookies or whoever are fighting up front for the race, you've got to respect that they've had a better day and let them go with nothing to fear.''

Dixon didn't have any problems running out front. If anything, he benefited from the congestion behind, the lapped cars making it hard for anyone to make a run.

An easy day, but the smiles won't last. After tests in Kentucky and Texas next week, it's on to the grind of Indy.

"It's going to be head down and bum up,'' he said.