FORT WORTH, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003 -- While the IndyCarTM Series Championship chase is closer than it ever has been, the battle for the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title will also come down the last race. Roger Yasukawa and Dan...
FORT WORTH, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003 -- While the IndyCarTM Series Championship chase is closer than it ever has been, the battle for the $50,000 Bombardier Rookie of the Year title will also come down the last race.
Roger Yasukawa and Dan Wheldon are in almost a dead-heat, with Yasukawa leading 281-277 heading into the season-ending Chevy 500 Oct. 12 at Texas Motor Speedway. They are in 11th- and 12th-place, respectively, in the IndyCar Series points.
Fellow rookie A.J. Foyt IV is 20th in points and third in the rookie standings with 190. He is mathematically ineligible for the title.
Yasukawa has competed in all 15 events in 2003, driving the No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara/Honda/Firestone for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing. He's finished in the top 10 seven times, including five of the last eight races. Yasukawa led at Phoenix and Pikes Peak and has been running at the finish of 11 of the 15 races.
"We have been having a pretty good string of top-10 finishes lately, but still we are looking to be in the top five, and I believe that can come at Texas," Yasukawa said. "This is the first track that I have already raced on in an IndyCar Series car, so I am fairly confident going into the weekend."
In the June race at Texas, Yasukawa started 11th and finished ninth. He knows he needs to have a good outing in the Chevy 500 to win the Bombardier Rookie of the Year title.
"I still look at it as whoever finishes ahead in the race will probably be the Bombardier Rookie of the Year," Yasukawa said. "I have led the Rookie of the Year standings throughout the season, and I am confident going into the last round. I know what I need to do, which is to do my best, and by doing so, if we are in the top five, I am almost certain that we will be the Bombardier Rookie of the Year this season."
While Yasukawa has competed in all 15 races this season, Wheldon has competed in 13. At the beginning of the season, Wheldon's team owner, Michael Andretti, planned to compete in the first four races of the season before retiring following the 87th Indianapolis 500. Wheldon was scheduled to compete at Indy and all remaining races.
However, after Dario Franchitti suffered an injury as a result of a motorcycle accident, Wheldon subbed for him in the No. 27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone at Motegi and finished seventh. At Indianapolis, Wheldon assumed his full-time ride in the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone.
Wheldon has four top-five finishes and nine top-10 finishes in 2003. He led 32 laps en route to a fourth-place finish at Chicagoland and then finished fourth at California. He has finished in the top 10 in six of the last seven races.
He competed for Panther Racing at Texas in 2002 and finished 15th. He finished 20th in June at TMS, completing only 48 laps before a mechanical problem ended his day.
"Basically what I need to do is go out with the same mentality that I've had all year and do what I can do," Wheldon said. "It's hard to predict what is going to happen. It's the last race. There is a lot of stuff going on for different people. I've just got to do the best I can and see where I end up. I'm very confident we'll be very strong again."
There is plenty at stake for Wheldon's team, Andretti Green Racing. In addition to Wheldon going for the Bombardier Rookie of the Year Award, his teammate, Tony Kanaan, is third in IndyCar Series points with 460, just seven points behind co-leaders Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon.
"There is a lot at stake for our whole team in Texas," Wheldon said. "I want to help Tony win the overall championship, and I want to win Rookie of the Year. If I can do all that in one day, I'll be very, very happy. If it happens where I can help Tony and be far enough ahead of Roger to where I can win Rookie of the Year, then so be it."
Tickets, TV and Radio: The season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is Oct. 12 and will be broadcast live at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. For tickets, log on to www.texasmotorspeedway, call (817) 215-8500 or go to any Ticketmaster location.