Scott Dixon believes the form of improving teams such as Newman/Haas/Lanigan could play a crucial part in deciding this year's IndyCar Series title battle.
Ganassi and Penske have dominated the season so far, but with Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves both crashing at Richmond while Ganassi took a one-two with Dixon and points leader Dario Franchitti, the latter duo have now made a break in the championship.
NHLR's Graham Rahal took third at Richmond, the first oval podium for one of the drivers and teams to join IndyCar at the time of the Champ Car merger. Dixon hopes that teams such as Rahal's can stay in the front pack and prevent Penske from clawing back the points lost last weekend.
"Hopefully, we can have more of a mix like that throughout the season," said the reigning champion. "To be honest, people like him getting in the mix is going to help us out a lot. If we can stay on the point end and have them in between the Penskes, it would be pretty nice."
Dixon added that he had been impressed by the turnaround in NHLR's oval form.
"I think he's had a rough start to the season, especially with some of the ovals, like Texas and even I remember seeing him at Iowa and I felt bad for the guy. He had his hands full there," said Dixon. "But to come away with this place on the podium is nothing to sneeze at. I think those guys have been working hard at it."
Rahal was delighted to be able to run with the leaders on an oval – especially as he had struggled in practice.
"It really speaks volumes for what the team can do," he said. "I think to start this weekend we certainly were no place we wanted to be. The car didn't feel very good. At the end of practice one, we had a lot of work to do. And my engineer Martin [Pare] and I and the entire team just kept plugging away.
"To come home second to the [Ganassi] team is like a victory for us. And to be standing on the podium finally on an oval, it feels pretty good. And to kind of give us momentum into the next couple of road courses where we feel we should be one of the favorites; it's a good improvement."
His teammate Robert Doornbos finished ninth, also his best oval result so far, but admitted he was pleased that the string of six consecutive oval dates was now giving way to three road courses.
"This will make me stronger on ovals but I have to be honest, I look forward to the road courses," said Doornbos.