IRL: Kansas 300 drive finds Wheldon alone at the top

When the weather gets hot in Kansas City, the locals don't wilt and find shelter. No way, they say; it just makes better reason to drink more beer and have a finer time in the sunshine. And that is precisely what the large crowd gathered at Kansas...

When the weather gets hot in Kansas City, the locals don't wilt and find shelter. No way, they say; it just makes better reason to drink more beer and have a finer time in the sunshine. And that is precisely what the large crowd gathered at Kansas Speedway Sunday set about doing for the duration of a spectacular, safe speed-fest in the Simply Wonderful state.

There was plenty of beer flowing and Firestone rubber turning Sunday (April 29th) as the IndyCar Series rolled onto the plains of exurban Kansas City for the Kansas Lottery 300. The race was won by Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon who overcame heat and fatigue to spirit away the trophy in round four of sixteen 2007 Indy Racing League stops this year.

"I think it was a real team effort today," said the Englishman, who won the IndyCar Series championship in 2005. "Both cars, everybody involved did a really good job. We're raring to go for the big one, the Indianapolis 500. That's the big goal for us."

"We're pretty happy about this," said team owner Chip Ganassi. "We're always looking to build momentum going into the month of May and this will put us in a good place for going to Indianapolis."

Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti, not Kansas pole-sitter Tony Kanaan, ultimately fulfilled the promise of the team going into the weekend. The Scot drove solidly and finished second in the race. In third finished Helio Castroneves of Team Penske, over a lap down to the leader.

"Everyone at Andretti/Green did a great job for us today, all day," remarked Dario after the race.

"The rubber from the truck race doesn't mate with our tires well, and the track was just horrible at the start," he added. "Toward the end of the first stint we could start running two-wide, but before you didn't want to go up there (the high groove of the track)."

"I'm happy enough," added Helio Castroneves. "Looks like Ganassi found something and they're doing well. We know what we have to do and we have to avoid mistakes and hopefully we'll win a championship this year."

Fourth was Wheldon's teammate Scott Dixon, on whom pitlane misfortune fell this time, then Vision Racing's Tomas Scheckter to round out the top five finishers in the Kansas race.

"It was a great, great job by everybody," said Scheckter. "We've been waiting for one of these performances, running in the top five. We still need a little bit more, but I always say 'Give me a good car and I'll put it up front'."

Dixon was penalized with a drive-thru assessment when he shortcut the fourth turn entry into the pits as he ran out of fuel. The League determined he should have entered the pitlane at the entrance of the third turn, apparently unaware of the fuel issue in his car.

Defending IRL champ Sam Hornish, Jr was sixth, followed by Danica Patrick and Vitor Meira of Panther Racing in eighth. AJ Foyt IV placed ninth and Jeff Simmons of Rahal/Letterman Racing, driving the Ethanol car, made up the last of the first ten finishing positions in the 300-mile affair.

Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher, and Milka Duno started the race and the racing's newest, decidedly feminine wave with a rush. Patrick was seventh, despite suffering a collision on pitlane with her teammate and pole-sitter Tony Kanaan; and Fisher took twelfth place. Duno, who qualified safely at a field-slowest 208.256 mph was cautious in motion for most of the day, minding her business about the raceway and creating room for faster traffic around and overtaking her. After starting dead last in twenty-first, she rose to a final position of fourteenth.

"With the help of (driver coach) Pancho Carter we did a fantastic job," said the Venezuelan IndyCar rookie. "I can drive behind these cars, inside, out, because the car is very good after our tests. I'm satisfied with this finish," she said after her first IndyCar start.

Kanaan's run-in with his teammate Patrick came on lap 52 as he entered the pits to refuel. The pit crew released Danica, who pitted first, without noticing the oncoming Kanaan. The black and blue Number Seven car (Patrick) ran into the left sidepod of the green/white and orange Number Eleven car (Kanaan), fracturing a front halfshaft on the latter and putting the pole- sitter over eight laps down as repairs were carried out.

Dan Wheldon's average speed of 188.179 miles per hour set a new track record at Kansas Speedway. He also took ten thousand dollars home for the "Most Laps Led" with 176 of the 200 laps showing the way. On the season, Wheldon not stands atop the field holding the lead on 483 of the seven hundred laps turned this year. Wheldon retains first place in the championship chase heading into the fifth race of the season.

The next race of the 2007 IRL season is the world-famous Indianapolis 500, this year celebrating its ninety-first running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The month of May is filled with activities from the opening day Sunday (May 6th) Rookie Orientation Program (in which Duno will participate), Pole Day on May 12th (Saturday) and that Midwestern de facto holiday, Carb Day on Friday May 25th. The race is scheduled to begin at noon on May 27th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Milka Duno , Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Dan Wheldon , Jeff Simmons , Chip Ganassi , Pancho Carter , Danica Patrick , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing