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Dixon back at Toronto where doubleheader sweep in 2013 fueled IndyCar championship surge

  • Canada IndyCar Toronto Auto Racing-1.jpg

    USA's Josef Newgarden drives on Lakeshore Boulevard during a practice session Friday, July 18, 2014, in Toronto, for this weekend's IndyCar auto races. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young) (The Associated Press)

  • Canada IndyCar Toronto Auto Racing-2.jpg

    France's Simon Pagenaud zooms around the track during the first practice session Friday, July 18, 2014, in Toronto, for this weekend's IndyCar auto races. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn) (The Associated Press)

  • Canada IndyCar Toronto Auto Racing-3.jpg

    French driver Simon Pagenaud faces his team's pit stand after finishing with the quickest time during a practice session Friday, July 18, 2014, in Toronto, for this weekend's IndyCar auto races. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young) (The Associated Press)

  • Canada IndyCar Toronto Auto Racing-4.jpg

    French driver Simon Pagenaud pulls off his balaclava after finishing with the quickest time during a practice session Friday, July 18, 2014, in Toronto, for this weekend's IndyCar auto races. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young) (The Associated Press)

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    French driver Simon Pagenaud steps out of his car after finishing with the quickest time during a practice session Friday, July 18, 2014, in Toronto, for this weekend's IndyCar auto races. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young) (The Associated Press)

Scott Dixon is running out of races to become a championship threat.

He's been in this spot before.

The three-time IndyCar champ might be at the right track to prove it's still too early to count him out for a fourth title.

Coming off a victory at Pocono, Dixon still wasn't thinking about a championship when he arrived at Toronto last year. The next two races changed everything. The 33-year-old Kiwi swept the Toronto doubleheader, moving him from fourth overall in the driver standings to second. He'd win again at Houston and clinched his third title at Fontana.

Dixon enters this year's doubleheader in a familiar place, well behind his rivals in the points race but one podium sweep from vaulting himself into contention.

"It's always possible, but we're definitely in a bit of a deep hole right now," Dixon said Friday. "It simplifies things. You don't have to race for points. You don't have to race for any scenario apart from going out there and winning."

Dixon has only one podium finish this season and is eighth in the standings, 140 points behind leader Helio Castroneves. The title race is still wide open, with no driver maintaining the kind of consistency that makes him the favorite.

"It's kind of a strange championship," Dixon said. "It looks like no one is trying to win it at this point, but I think it will turn around. You'll get some sense of somebody starting to get on a roll as we go through this weekend and definitely onto the next one."

Dixon has reason to feel optimistic about his own chances. He started 15th but moved up to finish fifth at Pocono on July 6. He started from the pole for the first time this season at Iowa and stayed in contention until settling for fourth in a tense finish behind teammate Tony Kanaan.

Dixon rebounded from brake issues in the first practice Friday to post the third best time in the second.

Josef Newgarden had the fastest time in Friday morning's practice and Simon Pagenaud topped the chart in the second practice for the last doubleheader weekend on the schedule.

IndyCar will hold qualifying before each weekend race. It will use standing starts for Saturday's race.

"The car system that we have, it's not really built for standing starts," Dixon said. "But I think everybody's found a good compromise and the standing starts of recent I think have been pretty good."

Sebastien Bourdais, like Dixon, could use a boost down the stretch. Bourdais was second and third in Toronto last year, the start of six top-10 finishes over the final eight races for Dragon Racing. He has yet to make the podium in a disappointing first season driving for KVSH Racing. He was 11th and sixth in Friday's practices.

"We are not exactly where we want to be. It's not really what I expected," Bourdais said. "I am not super confident with the car."

Dixon started strong this season with a fourth-place finish at St. Petersburg, Florida, but was 12th the following race at Long Beach. A podium came in Alabama, but his season hit a snag with a 15th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then a collision that ended his day at the Indy 500.

Dixon came close to the podium at Detroit and Texas, but a dreadful doubleheader in Houston where he finished 19th and 18th again destroyed his momentum.

"Unfortunately, now it's kind of that turnaround part," Dixon said. "We're trying to play catch-up. So for us right now is to try to redeem all that we can out of this year, and the best way to do that is with victories."

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