LEXINGTON, Ohio — Needing a strong final push to challenge for the IndyCar championship, Scott Dixon can't ask for a much better opportunity than this.
In third place in the standings with three races remaining, Dixon will start from the front Sunday at Mid-Ohio, the track where he has won five times in 10 starts and looks as dominant as ever this weekend. Dixon set a track record with his pole-winning time Saturday and understands this may the best chance he'll get to close the gap on points leader Juan Pablo Montoya.
"It's pretty tight around second, third, fourth, fifth, even going down to sixth I think at this point," Dixon said. "All of us have got to have a good run, and hopefully (Montoya) doesn't have one."
Montoya finished last in Iowa two weekends ago after his car flew into the wall, but he still has a 42-point lead on Graham Rahal, with Dixon another six points back. Helio Castroneves is fourth, and defending champion Will Power is fifth, 55 points behind Montoya.
The season ends Aug. 30 at Sonoma, California. That final race is worth double points, a format Power said he's not a big fan of — but one that could help him this year.
"In the position that I am in, it definitely makes it easier — or gives me more of a shot," he said. "It definitely leaves it more open."
Still, time is running out for Power.
"If we don't have a good day (Sunday), it's pretty much over as far as the championship," he said.
Several drivers bested the previous qualifying record of 1 minute, 5.347 seconds, which was set by Dario Franchitti in 1999 and matched by Gil de Ferran in 2000. Dixon's winning lap Saturday was 1:04.5814 in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
Power qualified second and Sebastien Bourdais was third. Montoya was 10th.
"We had a problem with the engine yesterday and lost almost an entire practice session," Montoya said Saturday. "We've been trying to catch up and we improved a lot this morning."
Rahal was 13th in qualifying. He was eliminated in the first round, and there was a brief disagreement between Rahal and Sage Karam on Twitter — a message on Rahal's account accused Karam of blocking him.
Dixon won at Mid-Ohio last year despite finishing last in qualifying, which gives some indication of how well he races at this track.
"The stars aligned," he said.
Maybe so, but he certainly looks like the driver to beat Sunday after winning his second pole of the year and 23rd of his career. Dixon's time of 1:05.1209 in Saturday's practice session was faster than the track record, but official track records can only be set in qualifying sessions or the race.
Then Dixon was even faster during qualifying.
"Part of it is just how smooth he is around here," said Charlie Kimball, who qualified sixth. "The way the track changes, continually evolving, I think he does a really good job of staying on that edge and never getting far from the edge of the track."
Montoya was breezing along with only one finish outside the top 10 before Iowa. He already won the Indianapolis 500 this year, which he says takes some of the pressure off for the title race.
"You can't prevent things like Iowa from happening," he said. "You can't control stuff like that, but knowing that we've done a great job all year — if you win a championship, it's a surplus, but if you ask people, you say the 500 is bigger than the championship."
Montoya had a 54-point lead going into the Iowa race, so his mishap there didn't cost him too much. Dixon finished 18th that day, falling from second place to third in the standings.
Now Dixon needs to bounce back, and he's at a track where he should be pretty comfortable.
"It's a track that feels natural for me," he said. "Obviously with the results that we've had here in the past, the confidence that, not just for myself but for the team and the engineers and everybody just coming in, everything just kind of flows a little bit better."