It has been an expensive summer for the teams competing in the IndyCar Series. Now for the fourth in a series of six races in six weeks, the series heads to another venue that could produce high
attrition: Nashville Superspeedway, where the Firestone Indy 200 will be staged Saturday night (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN).
A series of crashes over the past three weeks has left competitors scrambling to find spare parts for their Dallara chassis, then grumbling about their quality and the price being asked for them.
IndyCar Series founder (and Vision Racing owner) Tony George has a suggestion to those teams for cutting their costs: Have a quiet word with their drivers.
"The biggest problem we have is people running into each other," George said. "That's a situation where the 26 or 28 guys and gals in those cockpits have steering wheels and brake pedals they absolutely need to start using them in combination with their brain."
George noted that the carnage in the IndyCar Series in recent weeks hasn't been limited to ovals, which are perceived as a more expensive place to wreck. Former series champion Tony Kanaan crashed last week practicing at Watkins Glen International when a suspension component broke on his Andretti Green Racing entry.
"So much of it depends on the drivers and their judgment and skills and it doesn't matter if it's a road course or an oval," George said. "When you run into people, bad things happen and it can be a very expensive day no matter where you're at."
Nashville is a likely place for Dixon to make up for his uncharacteristic error at Watkins Glen. The New Zealander has won the past two years at the bumpy concrete oval.
Last year's race was a good one as Dixon and Dario Franchitti fought closely throughout a clean race that was slowed by only three cautions for 25 laps. Even with a nine-lap yellow for a midrace shower, Dixon completed the distance in barely more than an hour and a half.
The Target Ganassi driver believes he needs to perform well in the three remaining oval races this year to protect his 48-point championship lead over Helio Castroneves.
"We need to build a bit of a buffer on those guys on these ovals,"
said Dixon, who has finished in the top five in each of his five Nashville starts. "There's always pressure when you return to a track as the defending champion, and we'll be looking to win three in a row at Nashville."
Kanaan is the only other former Nashville winner in the 26-car field this weekend. But he has finished only two times in five starts on the concrete oval, and his record includes a crash last year.
"We know that we have to win races if we expect to win the championship so we're going to keep pushing and hope that our luck has finally changed," Kanaan stated.
Kanaan's AGR teammate Marco Andretti faces the kind of busy weekend several NASCAR drivers can relate to. Marco will pull double duty, racing at Nashville and sharing AGR's Acura ALMS prototype at Lime Rock Park with Franck Montagny.
"I'm loving that for sure," Andretti said. "It's just more driving -- back and forth, and the plane rides. Go there to practice, come here to qualify. I can't wait. That's me -- I love that."
The other two key championship contenders have never won at Nashville. Dan Wheldon, who is Dixon's teammate at Target Ganassi Racing, is a former pole winner but his best result is second place.
Castroneves has finished in the top 10 for every one of his six starts and notched four top-5s, but the Brazilian has never led a lap on the concrete. After confirming that he just signed a contract extension with Team Penske, he said he needs to start cutting into Dixon's championship lead at Nashville.
"He knows that too," Castroneves said. "Last week, as you can see, he had everything in his hand to take a very comfortable lead on the championship. And by overconfidence, probably, or whatever happened, it just slipped away. And that for me is a great opportunity for a comeback.
"I do feel Nashville is going to be a good race for us."
Only 12 of the 26 drivers entered this weekend have raced before at Nashville; Danica Patrick and Vitor Meira are the only other current IndyCar Series drivers who have finished in the top three at Nashville, and of the rest, only Darren Manning and Andretti have cracked the top five.
We know that we have to win races if we expect to win the championship so we're going to keep pushing and hope that our luck has finally changed.
-- Tony Kanaan
Manning (A.J. Foyt Racing) and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Rahal Letterman Racing are coming off career-best performances at Watkins Glen, where they finished 1-2 with Hunter-Reay scoring his first IndyCar Series victory.
"It's been a great week for me and I have been doing a lot of running around with media and sponsors but it's time to get back to work," Hunter-Reay said. "I am looking forward to the challenge and I know the team is more than ready to keep it going."
Qualifying has been crucial at what has been labeled a one-groove track. The Nashville winner has never started lower than sixth and with a bunch of Nashville neophytes on hand this year, getting into lapped traffic could get dicey for the leaders.
"I have been to a few racetracks that have concrete sections on them and it's generally very bumpy and quite difficult to drive on, so it's very challenging," said rookie Justin Wilson of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. "On an oval I can only imagine what that does."
HVM Racing is skipping this weekend's race after driver E.J. Viso contracted the mumps. The Indy Racing League has notified the Indiana State Department of Health and league officials also held a conference call for teams, drivers and suppliers and informed its employees of the case.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.