Birthday Boy Wheldon Wins Iowa
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon celebrated his 30th birthday in the best way possible for an IndyCar driver, by winning Sunday's Iowa Corn 250 with a calculated gamble on fuel strategy, followed by a determined drive to the checkers.
Wheldon, who ran in the lead pack all day, was one of three front-runners who elected not to pit with the rest of the field under caution on Lap 190. Andretti Green Racing's Hideki Mutoh and Danica Patrick also elected to stay out and conserve fuel to the finish.
It was a gamble that paid off as Wheldon held off the advances of Mutoh and Marco Andretti by just 14 thousandths of a second in one of the closest green-flag finishes of the season. IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon put on a late race charge to finish fourth, while Vision Racing A.J. Foyt IV scored a season-high fifth place. Battling understeer in the closing laps, Patrick rounded out the top six finishers.
A total of 26 Honda-powered drivers ran 8,990 miles of practice, qualifying and racing this weekend without a single engine-related failure reported.
Two other potential race victors -- Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves -- combined to lead 163 of the 250 laps, but neither was a factor at the finish. Team Penske's Castroneves led a race-high 92 laps, but faded late in the race and then had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a deflating rear tire, finishing two laps off the pace in 14th. Kanaan led 71 laps, and appeared to be Wheldon's strongest challenger in the late laps, but spun and made hard contact with the Turn 2 wall on lap 212 to end his day, fortunately without injury.
Despite recent events in the region, including a series of severe storms, tornadoes and flooding, a full house of more than 40,000 fans turned out to pack the grandstands at the .875-mile Iowa Speedway tri-oval, located some 40 miles east of Des Moines.
Next week, the IndyCar Series goes to the east coast for another short track event, at the 7/8ths mile Richmond International Raceway on June 28.
Dan Wheldon (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 1st, 2nd victory of 2008 and 15th career IndyCar win: "I must say first and foremost, it was an amazing turnout today, when you consider all the devastation that has taken place in Iowa this year. The crowd was unbelievable. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered with the storms and floods. Hopefully they all enjoyed the show today and it took their minds off their problems for just a little while. I thought it was a great weekend for the fans and our team. We had a bit of misfortune yesterday when I got caught up in Bruno [Junqueira's] crash, but the guys rolled out the spare car and it was just fantastic. Maybe not perfect on new tires, but it would just get faster and faster as each stint went on, and the Honda engine had great power and fuel economy as always."
Hideki Mutoh (#27 Formula Dream Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 7th, finished 2nd, career best IndyCar finish, leads the series Rookie points and moves up to fifth in the drivers' championship standings: "I'm very pleased. The final laps were exciting for everyone. I didn't want to block Marco [Andretti], who is my teammate, but I didn't want [Dan] Wheldon to get away either, and I tried very hard to pass him. It was a great finish for the team, and I hope to do even better in the future."
Marco Andretti (#26 Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 8th, finished 3rd: "It was a completely different race from last year. Our car worked well all day, especially in traffic, and there was a lot of good, hard, clean racing today. It had to be good for the fans, and it was definitely good from the cockpit! This rookie [teammate Hideki Mutoh] is good. Hideki was definitely 'on it' today and he deserved second place. It was a pretty good day for Andretti Green Racing, I feel like we're improving with every race."
Roger Griffiths (Race Team Technical Leader, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "It was great to see such a large and enthusiastic crowd here today in light of recent events in this area, and I think we gave them a pretty exciting race today. I'm also happy for Hideki Mutoh, as his second place was the best result in IndyCar Series history for a Japanese driver. Previously, it was a Toyota driver (Tora Takagi with a third place finish), so it's much better to have a Honda driver achieve this goal! On the engine front, it was a relatively trouble-free weekend for us, and everyone who finished the race today will be using the same engine next week at Richmond, which is good news as we begin this swing of six consecutive race weekends."