Wheldon Leads Race at Iowa Speedway, Finishes Fourth for Panther National Guard Driver Leads First Laps of Season, Battles for Another Top Five Finish NEWTON, Iowa. (June 21, 2009) -- Panther Racing driver Dan Wheldon put the No. 4 National...
Wheldon Leads Race at Iowa Speedway, Finishes Fourth for Panther
National Guard Driver Leads First Laps of Season, Battles for Another Top Five Finish
NEWTON, Iowa. (June 21, 2009) -- Panther Racing driver Dan Wheldon put the No. 4 National Guard car at the lead of the IndyCar Series field for the first time this season Sunday in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway, and eventually battled for a fourth-place finish. The result was Panther's third Top Five finish of the year and its sixth consecutive Top Ten result as the IndyCar Series travels to another short track next weekend at Richmond International Raceway -- a bullring where both Panther (2002) and Wheldon (2005) have collected victories in the past.
The team remains in sixth position in the IndyCar Series championship race, but gained valuable points on fifth-place Danica Patrick, and is now just five points behind the Andretti Green Racing star. Now Wheldon also has a bigger gap between himself and seventh-place Tony Kanaan, who currently trails Panther by 22 points in the championship after a crash on Sunday.
Wheldon started the race in sixth position, after the field was set by entrant points following the cancellation of qualifications on Saturday afternoon. He climbed to fourth by the 20th lap of the race, as cars in the field elected to run varying fuel strategies at the outset of the 250-lap race. The team pitted for the first time on Lap 36, but Wheldon was able to climb back up the field, quickly passing Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon on-track prior to another caution flag on Lap 55 for contact between Mario Moraes and Raphael Matos. Panther did not pit during the caution period and restarted the race in the second position.
Following the restart on Lap 65 former Panther driver Tomas Scheckter was able to pass Wheldon, but the team's new leader was able to move past the No. 23 quickly just nine laps later to regain the runner-up spot. Kanaan had to pit on Lap 106 and Wheldon assumed the lead of the race -- the first time the No. 4 National Guard car has paced the field in 2009. Another yellow flag six laps later sent all competitors to pit lane and equalized the multiple fuel strategies.
Having to fill the car full of fuel, Wheldon returned to the field in third position and was overtaken by another former Panther pilot -- Hideki Mutoh -- after a restart on Lap 124, which put the No. 4 car in the fourth position -- where it effectively remained for the rest of the race. A final green flag pit stop and a host of lapped traffic made the final stages of the race exciting, but Wheldon was unable to reel-in Mutoh while fighting off his former teammate Scott Dixon.
The IndyCar Series will travel next weekend to Richmond International Raceway for the SunTrust Indy Challenge, and the race will be broadcast live on Saturday, June 27th on Versus at 8 p.m. (ET) with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, IndyCar.com and XM Sirius Channel 211.
Dan Wheldon, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda
"It's a good result for Panther Racing and the National Guard; to finish fourth here with this level of competition is something we can build on. There's a bunch of good guys on this Panther team and they're all working very hard and I know we all want to get back to victory lane together. I always tended to lose a few places on starts and restarts but once the car came in it was as good as anybody out there. Towards the end of the race I should have made some more aggressive changes with the front wing because I had some understeer. My race was relatively low key, I was loose at the start of each stint, but once the car settled down it was as good. I'll take a Top Five and it's some good momentum to build upon. This is a good track, as it starts to lose even more grip it's going to become even more fun. I know a lot of people say that Iowa is in the middle of nowhere, but you know what, we get such a great crowd and they're so enthusiastic. As a driver you could put me in paradise, but if there's nobody in the grandstands then it's not good racing."