Dixon, Castroneves on front row in Detroit

Updated: August 30, 2008, 5:49 PM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- The battle for the IndyCar championship is won on the course, but Helio Castroneves is trying to influence the outcome off the track.

Castroneves, who enters Sunday's Detroit Indy Grand Prix on Belle Isle 43 points behind driver points-leader Scott Dixon, has refined his strategy to include mind games with the New Zealander.

"I'm trying to do everything I can," said Castroneves, who will start on the front row with Dixon after turning in the second-fastest qualifying lap Saturday of 102.412 mph. "We're trying to get into his head.

"We're having fun with it. Every chance I get I say something to him."

The Team Penske driver hasn't wasted any opportunities. During Thursday's news conference, Castroneves turned to Dixon and asked: "Are you feeling the pressure, buddy?" Then, during Friday's post-practice news conference, he said to the Target Chip Ganassi driver: "How's the pressure?"

Dixon had at least four brushes with the walls during the two days of practice sessions. However, Dixon earned his sixth pole position of the season after recording a qualifying lap of 103.090.

"We can clinch it Sunday," said Dixon, who has won four times this year when starting from the pole. "It would mean a lot. There is a lot of pressure going on at the moment. You want to get it done."

Castroneves has excelled in the Detroit race, winning twice in the last three open-wheel races held on the 2.07-mile street circuit. Last year he was knocked out of the race on lap 67 when he was involved in a wreck with Tomas Scheckter.

"As everyone always says, your first win you never forget," Castroneves said. "Every time I come over here, I never forget about that. It was a very special moment. But that was the past and now we need to focus on the business of what we need to do this weekend."

The Brazilian likes his current position.

"I like to be the hunter," he said. "I like to go after it. I like to push it. As the hunted, you have pressure and if you make a mistake it's going to play into the hands of the hunter.

"In my eyes, we have a great situation here. Momentum is the key. Ganassi has been having a fantastic year but finally they're starting to show some signs of weakness. We hope they continue showing that."

Castroneves also is hoping that the car he drove last Sunday to victory at Infineon Raceway will produce the same results. That car was not supposed to be used until this weekend, but was put into action after one of the team's trucks caught fire during the long trek from its race shop in North Carolina to California. The blaze badly damaged Castroneves' and Ryan Briscoe's primary cars.

"The car that we used for Sonoma was actually the car that we were supposed to use for Detroit," Castroneves said. "We had to convert it for Sonoma and then convert it back for here. The good news is we know we have a good car."

The biggest deficit a champion has overcome in the final two races is 12 points, which Dixon erased in 2003. According to the IndyCar Series, the combined deficits of the only three comebacks in IRL history amount to 24 points.

"We've got to concentrate on just getting the job done," Dixon said. "There's no point in concentrating on Helio or any of the others. There's a whole field there that we've got to beat."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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