Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Wheldon returns to Panther in 2010
2. In His Own Words - Dario Franchitti
3. In His Own Words - Hideki Mutoh
4. Teen driver gets help from Howard
5. IndyCar Series drivers head to SEMA

1. Wheldon returns to Panther in 2010: Panther Racing confirmed that Dan Wheldon will return to the cockpit of its familiar No. 4 machine for the 2010 season.

Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion, finished 10th in the final point standings, with a second-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 in May as his best result in 2009.

"I'm excited for next season, honestly," Wheldon said in a story posted on the team's website www.pantherracing.com. "Anytime I'm out of a racecar for too long I get restless. But I feel like we made some progress towards the end of the season after some struggles that show we're heading in the right direction."

Wheldon led just eight laps last season - his fewest since 2003 and never finished better than eighth over the final half of the season. But despite what some consider a poor season, team officials remain positive about their team.

"What I can tell you is that we're going to be fighting tooth and nail to improve," team owner John Barnes said. "We've got a group here that we really like, and I've made clear in the last two weeks what my expectations are for our team and driver."

Wheldon's return to Panther in 2009 concluded with the former Indy 500 winner earning three top-five and nine top-10 finishes.

"My goals are to win races," Wheldon said when asked of his expectations for next year. "Obviously we haven't achieved everything we wanted for the season, so for next year I'd like to build on the momentum that we've created this year and make it a winning season."

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2. In His Own Words - Dario Franchitti: Throughout the offseason, IndyCar Series drivers will discuss their 2009 season. Here is the perspective of Dario Franchitti, the 2009 IndyCar Series champion:

Winning a second IndyCar Series championship is very sweet, especially after the year I went through in NASCAR in 2008, when we had to park the car because of lack of sponsorship. Luckily, team owner Chip Ganassi gave me the opportunity to do what I do best and that is driving an IndyCar. I have to really thank Chip for giving me the chance to come back.

So to say I was very motivated would be an understatement. It was a tough year last year for all kinds of reasons. The first time I drove the car was at a road course test and then I got to race in Australia. I have such good memories of that place and getting back in the car got me so motivated about this team and the equipment they give you.

I wasn't out to prove a point; I just wanted to win again.

The Australia race last year was a great way to get started off with Chip's team. With testing the way it is limited in the IndyCar Series now they say, `Hey, we're going to let you go to Australia.' I was, `Oh, fantastic.' That really helped give it a jump-start with the guys on the team. I knew a lot of the guys to say hello to them but I didn't know their names. And working with Scott Dixon for the first time gave us a four- or five-month head start. That was really helpful.

Scott and I had enjoyed racing against each other on different teams but now we were teammates. We are still learning each other's ways. We definitely have different ways of going about things. Scott is fairly relaxed about the way he does everything. I'm more focused. Don't mistake Scott being relaxed with a lack of application; it's just he is so comfortable with his engineer. I'm more into the details of things and I always have been.

At St. Petersburg, I had the best start of the year for me to go from fifth to second in the first corner. I was really happy to get away with that one. I was running second to Justin Wilson and Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay got a little lucky with the yellow and jumped us. We finished fourth but we had a car that could have won.

So we moved on to Long Beach where I won the race and Scott finished 15th. Will Power parked in his pit at St. Pete and that screwed his race and then Ryan Briscoe took him out under yellow at Long Beach. He was a bit ticked at the Penske boys for a while.

As for myself, Long Beach was great. For everything Chip Ganassi and I went through last year it was the point where `yes, this is why I came back.' The car was really good. I got into that street course rhythm again and didn't have to drive above 80 percent the rest of the race.

Long Beach was always the signature event in the CART series so this year to win Long Beach and Toronto was big for me. I had won Toronto 10 years before and finished second to Juan Montoya at Long Beach. That was the one I wanted to win so to get that was great.

But then it was off to Kansas where I started on the pole and they got me for crossing the white line, then I had the brake failure in the pits, which was very entertaining.

Indianapolis was a very big indicator for us. The first time we went out and had the car dialed in we managed to get my car exactly how I wanted it and was driving it well, then I started thinking Indy is as tough a place as we go to and if I can run as well as we did there; we can do that anywhere.

Helio Castroneves got most of the attention that month but that didn't really matter to me. I've done this long enough that I don't pay attention to what is being said or written because I'm under the team bubble. I had as good a car this year as the year I won it in 2007 but that last pit stop just killed us.

After being at Indy for the month of May, then the schedule really picks up with races every weekend but I just take them one at a time. If the races are five days apart - whatever -- I just take them one at a time. That seems to have worked for me. There were a lot of races this year where we had the fastest car and didn't win for a variety of reasons. Then, at the end of the year at Homestead, we didn't have the fastest car but we got the job done.

This year when I won at Iowa, at least our dog, Shug, didn't run off. That was a stressful time when he ran off in 2007. Iowa worked out well for me. When we had to go, we went. We did what we had to do in the middle of the race and then at the end, we turned up the wick and went. To win at Iowa again was really cool.

That it was obvious that nobody with the points lead would hold on to it from one race to the next. It was so close that one little slip each week; the other guys were right on you or vice-versa. It was so intense. Tony Kanaan to start off with was strong but Indy was the tipping point and he struggled after that where everything that could go wrong did. After that, it was pretty much a three-man race.

I knew I was getting the good stuff at the Target team but I didn't take that for granted. I thought I could do it - I believed in myself - but nobody was going to give it to me. I hoped it was possible but I didn't expect the championship.

So when we got to Japan, I was 25 points behind Ryan Briscoe and while both Scott and I knew we were still in it, Ryan had to make a mistake. But we all made mistakes this year. We all had bad pit stops and got lucky and unlucky in strategy. It was just part of the roller-coaster, man - I didn't get too up or too down with it. I tried to stay balanced throughout the year.

Coming back from Japan, I did the ALMS race for Patron and tested at Indy and at Homestead so I was able to get my mind off the last race of the season.

So when we got to Homestead, I was five points behind Scott and only three ahead of Ryan. We won the pole at Homestead but the car wasn't fast at the start. We improved the car so much in the race -- the track came to the car and the car came to the track. Had we bunched up under yellow, I would have had more fuel than them anyway and we could have given them a run for their money, but we'll never know.

When I won the championship in 2007, there were still two series, but this year it was one unified series and I got to race against everybody. That made it very special. The competition level is higher than it has ever been because everybody is under one roof now so it's great. It's extra special.

And while people want to put me in the same category as other great drivers from Scotland - Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart - as well as Graham Hill from England, I see those guys on a different level.

I'm just happy that I get to do what I get to do.

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3. In His Own Words - Hideki Mutoh: Throughout the offseason, IndyCar Series drivers will discuss their 2009 season. Here is the perspective of Hideki Mutoh of Andretti Green Racing:

This year was my second year with Andretti Green Racing and in IndyCar Series. At the beginning of this year, I decided to set a very high goal -- to win at least one race this year. I knew it would be tough, but I felt I needed to have a high goal.

Unfortunately, I couldn't accomplish my goal so I must say I am a little disappointed with my overall results. But I was able to be in the top five on the last two road courses of the season, so I am confident that I am getting much more used to handling and driving the IndyCar. I know I have learned so much from my two years in the IndyCar Series and I am eager to learn more.

I think I was able to show what I've learned from the past races and was able to "race" with all the veteran drivers this year.

The biggest regret I have this year would be my crash during qualifying at the Indy Japan race at Motegi. Not only because it was my home race, but I promised myself that I would show my best performance there in front of the fans in Japan. I was in pain on the race day, but all the cheering and support I felt from the fans helped me finish the race. I am so grateful for having such great fans and their support.

All in all, the race result was not what I wished for but I was able to realize how great my fans and IndyCar (Series) fans are, so it was a great race for me in that respect.

In every single race, I felt the strong support from my team and the pit crews and I want to thank them for their warm support. I think I had one of the best crews and their support meant a lot for me.

I cannot say much about the 2010 season but I hope I will be racing in the IndyCar Series again and can bring a win to the team.

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4. Teen driver gets help from Howard: IndyCar Series driver Jay Howard will lend his driving expertise to a music-obsessed teen with a less than stellar driving reputation as part of a promotion for MTV.

Howard, who recently signed with Sarah Fisher Racing for the 2010 season, participated in the "The Road to the Woodies" which will air beginning Oct. 28 during MTV's Real World/Road Rules (RW/RR) Challenge: The Ruins. During the challenge, a teen driver named Lauren must pass Howard's four-part driving challenge to earn a trip to the MTVu Woodie Awards in New York.

"When I learned how to drive, I was on a race track and everyone was going the same way," said Howard, the 2006 Firestone Indy Lights champion who will run a limited schedule in 2010 that includes the 2010 Indianapolis 500. "Sometimes I think driving on the interstate is more dangerous than driving on a race track. There are so many distractions for drivers today. For this lesson, we're focusing on car control and safety. There will be no texting while driving on my watch."

In a four-part, short-form "Road to the Woodies", MTV will document the Lauren's journey where she learns to improve her driving skills with the help of Howard, while her parents evaluate the results of each challenge via in-car camera technology. Each episode ends with a pass/fail report, which provides assistance to new and inexperienced drivers through an inspirational program that rewards safe drivers.

"Teens must overcome significant challenges as beginning drivers," said Lisa Bacus, vice president of marketing for American Family Insurance "The MTV campaign with IndyCar(Series) driver Jay Howard and Mindshare Entertainment illustrates the challenges real teens face and, with the use of the innovative technology of the Teen Safe Driver Program, shows how direct involvement vastly improves driving habits. Thanks to Jay for being the teen's coach throughout the series."

If Lauren completes the challenges with less than 10 points on her report, she will join Howard on the red carpet and attend the 2009 mtvU Woodie Awards in NYC at the Roseland Ballroom in December.

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5. IndyCar Series drivers head to SEMA: IndyCar Series drivers Marco Andretti, Sarah Fisher and Jay Howard are among the celebrities scheduled to appear during the 2009 SEMA Show in Las Vegas on Nov. 3-6.

Andretti will appear on Nov. 3 in the American Honda booth while Fisher and Howard will make appearances on Nov. 4 at the Pematex booth from 9-10 a.m. and at the Wexco Industries booth on behalf of Auto-Tex Pink from 2-3 p.m. (Fisher only).

-credit: irl