In what seems like a quicker turnaround than five days since the NTT IndyCar Series waged battle on the streets of Toronto, we are back in the USA and among the cornfields of Iowa for Saturday evening’s Iowa 300.

This race is Round 12 of the 17-race season, and with just six races to go, we have officially reached the championship rounds. The field of contenders is now down to four drivers: points leader Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, who are all within 86 points of each other heading into the weekend.

Things are getting serious, and judging by the fact that the Big Four took the first four finishing spots at Toronto, and then took four of the top five spots after the morning practice at Iowa, it looks like everyone is ready to step up to the challenge.

Pagenaud and Rossi have been very vocal about their desire to win a championship, while you won’t get Dixon to talk about it publicly, after five championships you know how he feels. Newgarden hasn’t talked about it (yet) but earlier this year he spoke of being in a position to do something great and how he felt if being in that position means you have to do everything you can to make the most of it.

So while much of the conversation the last few weeks centered around a possible battle between Newgarden and Rossi, it’s time to get excited about the possibility that Dixon and Pagenaud will also be in the conversation come the finale at Laguna Seca.

To me, that’s awesome. One thing that is different about this years’ battle compared to others is that this time I’m watching it from the near sidelines. Seeing these guys every weekend and hearing them talk, I’m starting to get a feel as to what motivates them and how their intensities are ratcheting up with each passing week.

What I love is that this is turning into a personal, head-to-head, man-on-man competition. That’s just the essence of sport, people matching their talents against others of equal ability, just to prove who is best. When I was growing up, my favorite sport to play was baseball, and most of the time I pitched and/or caught (sometimes in the same game!), so the idea of “I’m better than you and I can prove it” is something that really gets me excited.

This could be a really special summer. Four drivers at the absolute top of their games going at it when it counts most. The longer this goes on, the bigger it will get, and I think at some point it will get a little bit feisty and the gloves will come off. Although most drivers play it down for the most part, they are hyper-competitive humans. They have to be to do what they do.

Battles like this don’t come along often, so enjoy this, all the way to the end.

PitLane Parley Podcast

Pagenaud’s big weekend at Toronto is a topic of conversation on this week’s show. Host Mike, Jess and Matt also discuss the inspirational Robert Wickens pace lap,┬áthe Ed Jones vs Spencer Pigot battle, as well as Will Power’s rough day. Check it out on all sorts of listening platforms, including here on iTunes.

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media