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Tag, ‘Dinger add extra intrigue to IndyCar title tilt at Fontana

Oct 10, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

Shell And Pennzoil Grand Prix Of Houston Getty Images

For all of its flaws and foibles, the IZOD IndyCar Series hasn’t had to worry about its championship lacking excitement in quite some time. And so it goes again for this year’s duel between two-time series champion Scott Dixon and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

With Dixon now ahead of Castroneves by 25 points after last weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader, their respective teams have now called in strong ‘reinforcements’ for the season-ending MAV TV 500 on Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing squad has tabbed Alex Tagliani to replace the injured Dario Franchitti in the No. 10 Target Honda, while Castroneves’ Team Penske camp will roll out its third machine, the No. 2 IZOD Chevrolet, for A.J. Allmendinger.

With Ganassi adding Tagliani, the numbers game for Fontana is square, as both teams will field three cars each in the 2013 finale. Tagliani has been out of the No. 98 Barracuda Racing machine since late July and has kept busy running sports cars. But his knack for driving the big ovals should make him a suitable wing man for Dixon, and we should remember that if not for a late engine failure, ‘Tag’ might have been the one in Victory Lane last year at Fontana.

Charlie Kimball, the third Ganassi driver who has made considerable strides in performance this season, has also had his own success on big ovals this year, with a Top-10 at Indianapolis (ninth) and a runner-up performance at Pocono. In summary, Dixon should be covered fairly well at Fontana.

Ditto for Castroneves, who will have in his corner both a surging Will Power (two wins in the last four races) and Allmendinger, who has made five IndyCar starts this season for Team Penske and finished seventh at the Indianapolis 500 – the lone oval start he’s had this year in open-wheel.

Allmendinger has made nine Sprint Cup starts on the 2-mile oval (best finish of 14th, 2008 and 2011), but has never faced Fontana in an IndyCar before. Still, he’s a wild card that Dixon, Tagliani and Kimball will have to think about throughout the championship weekend.

Then there’s Power, who will certainly be motivated to avenge his disastrous crash there last year that opened the door for Ryan Hunter-Reay to swipe the championship from him.

But from the Penske standpoint, it’ll all come down to Castroneves’ ability to bounce back from a chaotic weekend in Houston in which his car suffered mechanical problems in both races (finishes of 18th and 23rd being the outcomes). After a consistent campaign that had him completing every lap of every race through Baltimore, things finally went pear-shaped for the Brazilian and now, he must rally.

And there’s one more thing we must consider: The battle between Chevrolet and Honda for the manufacturer’s championship, which has turned into a ‘winner-take-all’ scenario after the two marques split victories at Houston (Honda’s Dixon in Race 1, Chevy’s Power in Race 2). Both sides have nine wins on the season; the next one for either side clinches.

All things considered, Fontana is shaping up to be a hell of a race.

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