FONTANA, Calif. Deep thinker Gil de Ferran is known on the CART circuit as "Professor."
The 33-year-old Brazilian is always seeking knowledge, testing theories, evaluating situations. But even de Ferran realizes too much analysis can hurt his performance.
For instance, the top driver for Team Penske doesn't want to overdo his thinking heading into Sunday's season-ending Marlboro 500 at California Speedway.
De Ferran, who leads an unprecedented five-man championship race, tries not to think about the importance of the event. He wants to keep his emotions under control.
"It's certainly a tough mental exercise to block these thoughts out, but it's more important to stay focused and concentrate on the 500 miles ahead of us, since anything can happen," de Ferran said.
The 250-lap event on the 2-mile oval is again expected to produce the kind of wildly competitive race that has become almost routine on CART's two fastest ovals this one and the almost-identical Michigan Speedway.
There also is the element of danger, graphically demonstrated last year, when rising star Greg Moore was killed in a crash early in the race.
"You don't take anything for granted at Fontana," de Ferran said. "The speeds are high and the danger is always there. You can't let down your guard for a moment, but you don't want to dwell on that, either."
Instead, the central character in of the best championship chase in the 22-year history of CART will try to make a slight edge in the numbers work for him.
With a maximum of 22 points on the line in Fontana one for the pole, 20 for winning the race and one for leading the most laps de Ferran will go into Saturday's qualifying leading Adrian Fernandez by just five points.
Paul Tracy and CART rookie Kenny Brack a former champion in the rival Indy Racing League are tied for third, 19 points back. Roberto Moreno is fifth, another three points behind, and can win only on a tiebreaker should he sweep.
"You'd think it was really just between me and Adrian," de Ferran said. "But the way things have gone this year, with 10 different winners in 19 races, nothing would surprise me.
"It's just so competitive."
De Ferran is trying to give Roger Penske's resurgent team its eighth CART championship, 10th Champ car title and first since Al Unser Jr. in 1994.
He already has provided Penske with one precious milestone this season, his 100th Champ car victory. It also jump-started a team that hadn't won since 1997.
That victory May 27 in Nazareth, Pa., was the first of five for the team. De Ferran also won in Portland, Ore. Teammate and fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves has three victories in his breakthrough season.