Howard Captures First Career IRL Indy Pro Series Championship at Chicagoland Speedway
2005 Indy Pro Series Champion Wade Cunningham captured the checkered flag at Chicagoland Speedway this afternoon, but it was rookie driver Jay Howard who came out on top in the point standings to secure his first IRL Indy Pro Series Championship.
In a championship chase that would be decided in the final event of the season, it was reasonable to assume the final laps would be instrumental. All 67 laps of the Chicagoland 100 proved crucial. In a fast-paced race with 1-2 separated by 0.0020 of a second on Lap 57, it was a last-lap shootout that determined the race winner and champion.
Cunningham beat Klein to the checkered flag by 0.6097 of a second for his third victory of the season. The margin of victory was good enough to best a previous track record for the largest margin of victory in an Indy Pro Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. The old record was set on Sept. 11, 2005, when Marty Roth finished 0.2306 seconds behind Jeff Simmons. Cunningham finished third in the standings with 379 points despite missing two races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., because of an emergency appendectomy in the No. 1 Brian Stewart Racing car.
"I don't really think the end does the race justice," said Cunningham. "Started on the first lap, three-wide first corner. It was a really, really tough race, the conditions with the wind. There was no ideal gearing today because of the wind. Whoever was in the lead was at a disadvantage. You really needed a drafting partner behind you so you could pull your top gear. I tried working with Jonathan (Klein) early on, but he burnt me. I burnt him back, got a new drafting partner. We worked really for the rest of the race. I was lucky to come away with the win."
Howard, driver of the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Isilon/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, hung on for third place to secure the title by four points over Jonathan Klein (390-386). It is the closest points margin in series history. Alex Lloyd in the No. 26 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc. car finished fourth and Chris Festa in the No. 51 Cheever Racing /Formtek car was fifth after starting 14th to round out the top-five.
"Yeah, my plan sort of changed the whole way through the race," said Howard. "Start of the race, the plan was to go out, lead as many laps. Hopefully no one would get by me, just win the race. Nice, easy race. That didn't seem to work. Drafting plays a big part here. A couple of guys got by. We were all shuffling for positions. Once Wade went to take the lead again, I just decided Jono (Klein) was the guy I needed to beat, so I'd work with Wade. If he wants to win, so be it, if that means I can win the championship. We won the championship. So I'm really happy."
Brian Stewart Racing won the entrant title for the second year in a row.