Watkins Glen, N.Y. Dario Franchitti sits atop the IRL series, and after the first day of practice on the high-speed road course at Watkins Glen International, he was still beaming.
Franchitti leads Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon by 65 points in the season standings heading into Sunday's Watkins Glen Grand Prix. He was fourth-fastest on the speed charts after Friday's two practice sessions and is riding a wave of success with two straight wins and eight consecutive top-five finishes.
"When it comes to road or street courses, if anybody thinks they can make up points, good luck to them," said Franchitti, who won nine races in his Champ Car career on natural terrain road courses or temporary street circuits and was third here two years ago.
"It's my job to go out there and win it. We've had quick cars this year, which definitely makes my job easier, and we're getting a little bit of luck. Things are going our way. In 2005, we were in position to win many races and things went wrong one after the other. It's nice to be in this position."
With eight races remaining, and four of them on either road or street courses, Franchitti, one of the best road racers in the IndyCar Series, is in good position to win his first IRL title. If anybody has a chance to gain some ground here, though, it's Dixon, who has won two straight at Watkins Glen.
"If we can get a good start here, it's definitely going to help us," said Dixon, who has won both IRL races at Watkins Glen from the fourth spot on the starting grid.
Dixon slid off course in the morning practice and was still adjusting to his third new chassis in three races here.
"We've just got to figure it out. We've only run it once, at St. Petersburg. We've still got a ways to go," Dixon said. "With no testing in this series, it's very difficult. We've got a lot of work to do on the car to make it good for the race."
It didn't take long to adjust. Dixon was second-fastest overall in practice at 134.563 mph, behind only Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves (134.622 mph) as the top six drivers shattered Castroneves' track record of 133.806 mph, set two years ago in qualifying.
Much of the newfound speed can be attributed to track improvements made in the fall. Three of the 11 turns on the 3.4-mile road course were repaved with asphalt, and some curbing was lowered.