IRL: Wheldon chases first title with Chicagoland win

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IRL: Wheldon chases first title with Chicagoland win

Dan Wheldon really wanted to wrap up his first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series title on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval this afternoon but it wasn't to be. Wheldon needed a 107-point cushion after this race but leaves the Windy City...

Dan Wheldon really wanted to wrap up his first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series title on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway oval this afternoon but it wasn't to be. Wheldon needed a 107-point cushion after this race but leaves the Windy City with 570 points to Tony Kanaan's 468, 102 points ahead.

Dan Wheldon takes the checkered flag ahead of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
Despite beating Helio Castroneves to the checkered flags by a scant 0.0133 seconds after 200 mesmerizing laps, the Briton will just have to wait at least two weeks to claim his championship. The finish was the eighth closest in the League's 10-year history.

Wheldon, who began the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean in fifth position, moved swiftly to the front and, even though the nature of a race like this means a yin and yang struggle to maintain position.

Wheldon led the most laps, 88, overcoming a pit speed violation on his second stop on lap 98 when he failed to engage the pit speed limiter in his cockpit. Still, "I knew I had a chance to come back because you can come back on the superspeedways pretty quickly."

In taking his sixth victory of the 2005 season, Wheldon completed one of his goals for the season, besting Sam Hornish Jr.'s prior record of five wins. "We had an aggressive setup today and were very quick in traffic. Once underway, the car was very, very good. This is a fun place to race and win and to take Sam's record is truly special."

His parents were in attendance again this afternoon -- just as they were at Indianapolis in May -- and Wheldon is happy to see that his folks will stick around for at least the next race and help guarantee a championship.

In second, Castroneves was pleased by the result after starting back in 11th. "I couldn't run low because the car was so twitchy," he said. "It was kind of hard to make my moves but the team did great strategy on the pit stops and on the last yellow I was able to jump up to second. Danica [Patrick] went a little early but she went back again," Castroneves confided.

All that was left was to "follow Dan, but my rear kept moving so it was tough to move up. Then I saw Sam coming and we got side by side. We just didn't have enough" to overtake the leader. It was a great day," Castroneves declared, "but I have mixed emotions. I'm happy to be second but I'm also sad to be second."

Teammate Sam Hornish Jr. raced in the lead pack all afternoon and finished third, 0.0673 seconds behind Wheldon. The two-time IndyCar Series champion moved up after the final yellow and tried "to push Helio past Dan to at least get a win for the team," Hornish revealed. "I wasn't going to go anywhere but try to push him. It's kind of sad we lost the victory there but we couldn't work together."

Tomas Scheckter finished fourth for his sixth top-five of the season while Kanaan took fifth and led 46 laps this afternoon and thought it was a "pretty good day. The car was fast and we had great restarts all day," leading two laps in the process. "There were some crazy moments out there today and I was almost involved in a massive wreck at the end," Scheckter retold.

Ryan Briscoe.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
The Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 was interrupted on the 20th lap when rookie Ryan Briscoe, trying to recover from starting 23rd after failing tech inspection nudged wheels with Alex Barron. The contact launched Briscoe into the turn 3-4 SAFER barrier and his Panoz/Toyota caught fire.

Kosuke Matsuura was collected in the melee and the IRL decided, under the guise of caution to red flag the contest after running under yellow for nine laps. The red flag lasted for 17 minutes while the Delphi Safety team prepared the circuit for a clean restart.

Briscoe was transported by helicopter to a local hospital after being taken from the car and was in stable condition, with bruises on his knees and quite a bell-ringing. He is expected to stay at Christ Hospital Oak Lawn overnight for observation. Barron and Matsuura were treated and released.

The second and third cautions were for debris in the third turn and first turn, respectively. The final caution yellow came for a tow-in of Scott Dixon's stricken car, which had run out of fuel twice on another difficult day for Chip Ganassi's team.

Of 23 starters there were only five retirements as Tomas Enge bent his right rear suspension and exited the contest on the 141st lap and Dixon retired with gearbox failure on the 170th lap.

Danica Patrick had one of her better runs to sixth place from pole position. As has been her way, the rookie bent back into the field and returned to the front on numerous occasions.

"I had a lot of oversteer at first, which we corrected and then I got comfortable. I ran two full stints on the same tires at the end," Patrick confirmed, "and I thought I heard 'green' on the last restart but it wasn't green yet so I had to move back in the field. I don't blame myself for being proactive and I'll apologize if there are any repercussions," Patrick said after learning Kanaan faulted her for balking him in the waning laps.

Vitor Meira, who started 20th after an engine change charged up to seventh using team strategy and his racing wiles. After having an extremely loose car at the start that was "impossible to drive," his team improved the car at every pit stop and, "A few more pit stops and the car would have been great."

Scott Sharp was up and down the field, having to pull back for fuel consumption reasons yet persevered to finish eighth. Realizing it would be a race of "multi-pack running, there were times when the car was really good and I charged into the top five, but it just wouldn't last for long and would go off."

Patrick Carpentier salvaged another top-10 result from his 16th starting position and took ninth today. "For me it was very fun racing today. Things were a bit crazy at the beginning but the guys calmed down and made the car a lot of fun to drive. This was by far my best race on one of these fast ovals and it was the first time we were able to stick with the leaders. It's not going to be the last," he warned.

Buddy Lazier had high hopes for this race and finished tenth. "We lost second gear early in the race and had a wheel nut lock up during one of our pit stops," Lazier admitted. "Not having second killed us on the restarts and then about 15 laps later I shifted from fifth to sixth and we lost sixth. We were banging on the rev limiter for a lot of the time," he said.

A.J. Foyt IV raced well to 11th and Dario Franchitti, who was on a different pit stop strategy from his teammates, took an uncharacteristic 12th. Buddy Rice went up and down the leader board and finished 13th while Bryan Herta went a full 63 laps between tank-loads yet it didn't pay off for a 14th place result. Roger Yasukawa took 15th, Jaques Lazier was 16th, Ed Carpenter and Jimmy Kite rounded out the balance of the field.

The Indy cars have a week and a half to turn their cars around for the inaugural visit to bucolic Watkins Glen International, where Wheldon needs only to start the race to win the 2005 championship, but he's not counting his chickens before they hatch.

And what about next year?  "We're very close to re-signing with Andretti
Green Racing.  It's all down to stuff between attorneys," he confirmed.

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Editor's note: Sunday, September 11
Update on Briscoe

Reports from the hospital indicate that Briscoe has a bruised lung, a concussion and has broken his clavicle on both the left and right sides. He is awake, alert and in good condition but will spend the night at the hospital.

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Editor's note: Monday, September 12
Please see Briscoe medical update

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