Unification spurred ultra-competitive season

The quest for the 2008 IndyCar Series championship was one of the most difficult in series history. Drivers such as Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon, who had previously won IndyCar Series championships, learned in late February that they would be competing against the likes of Champ Car race winners Bruno Junqueira, Will Power, Oriol Servia and Justin Wilson.

While everyone celebrated the unification of open-wheel racing and a more than 40 percent jump in the number of cars on track, they also knew it would be much more difficult to win races and the championship.

That fact became clearly evident the second week of the season when newcomer Graham Rahal won on the streets of St. Petersburg in his series debut.

Overall, a record-tying nine drivers visited Victory Lane during 2008, including first-time winners Rahal, Danica Patrick, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Wilson. Thirteen drivers recorded podium finishes.

Dixon prevailed in the championship, clinching the title Sept. 7 at Chicagoland in a race where he ‘only’ had to finish eighth or better.

“It's extremely tough to try and finish eighth or better in this series," Dixon said. “The mile-and-a-half (ovals), the guys that are new to the series this year have definitely figured it out. There were a lot of people racing up top that we didn't expect to be. It's changed a lot, the series in general. If it was the situation last year, I think finishing eighth would have been quite easy. Now you breathe a little, you give up a bit. We shuffled ourselves all the way back to 12th at one point. You definitely need to keep on it. I think it makes it extremely tough."

Servia, Wilson and Power finished ninth, 11th and 12th, respectively in the championship.

“To be honest, next year's going to be harder than that," Dixon said. “So, definitely extremely happy with winning the first unified (season)."

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