The last time he entered a championship finale in IndyCar, Dario Franchitti had to fight off his then rival from an opposing team, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Flash forward to this year and the reverse is true. Not only is Dixon leading heading into the final round of the 2009 season but it's his teammate, Franchitti, that is chasing him down. Add Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske into the mix and it's a three-horse race that is separating by only eight points.
"It is winner takes all, whoever finishes ahead," Franchitti said in an interview, summarizing the entire season in one sentence.
The Ganassi and Penske teams have alienated the competition, winning all but one of the 16 prior races this season. The exception Justin Wilson was for Dale Coyne Racing at Watkins Glen in July.
Dixon has won five races this season, Franchitti four, and the inter-team battle between the two Ganassi drivers has been intense but fair.
"We've had it all year really, fighting for race wins with each other," Franchitti said. "Each team wants to beat the other on track, or through pit strategy."
The obvious team order is not to take each other out. Franchitti admitted an obvious disappointment if his team doesn't win the title but said the goal is still to keep Chip Ganassi's team on top of the heap.
"Definitely, the first goal is for me to make sure that 10 car wins it," Franchitti said. "We definitely, from a team perspective, know it's important one of us wins it. That's certainly not a given. You can't plan things in these situations."
Recalling the prior season finale at Chicagoland in 2007, when Dixon came within a fraction of ethanol of winning the title and Franchitti emerged with both the race win and title, Franchitti said it was all out, all race, as could be expected.
"I don't really think it's that different," he said. "I don't think in '07 either of us could cruise, especially now because we have Briscoe in it. It's going to be very similar."
That said Ganassi has the last two series champions in his court: Franchitti for Andretti Green in 2007 and Dixon last year. Keeping it away from Briscoe, who is looking for his first title and Roger Penske's first in IndyCar since 2006 (Sam Hornish Jr.) remains the goal.
"If either of us wins, Chip will be happy," Franchitti said. "Both the 9 and 10 Target cars can win the title."