IRL: Chicagoland: Honda race report

Wheldon Wins by a Whisker Andretti Green Racing's Dan Wheldon virtually assured himself of his first IndyCar Series drivers' championship with a thrilling photo-finish victory over the Team Penske duo of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish ...

Wheldon Wins by a Whisker

Andretti Green Racing's Dan Wheldon virtually assured himself of his first IndyCar Series drivers' championship with a thrilling photo-finish victory over the Team Penske duo of Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

The razor-thin margin of victory -- just 13-thousandths of a second -- brought Wheldon his sixth victory of the 2005 season, a new record for the Indy Racing League. The 26-year-old Honda driver will clinch his championship merely by taking part in the next event on the 17-race schedule, the Sept. 23-25 event at Watkins Glen International Raceway.

Starting fifth, Wheldon ran in the lead pack all day long, leading a total of 88 laps and at one point opening up a relatively massive two-second advantage over the field. But a late-race caution flag on Lap 184 bunched up the field and set up a 13-lap finishing sprint. Wheldon held the low line in the final laps as the Penske duo challenged on the high side, resulting in the eighth-closest finish in IRL history.

The race was marred by a spectacular crash on Lap 19, when rookie Ryan Briscoe touched wheels with Alex Barron, sending Briscoe's car high into the air and crashing into the debris fence as Honda-powered Kosuke Matsuura also was caught up in the crash. Although awake and alert following the accident, Briscoe was transported to a local hospital with a possible concussion and back pain, while Matsuura and Barron escaped serious injury.

Rookie points leader Danica Patrick started from the pole and led the opening lap, but was penalized for jumping the final restart and finished sixth, still her best result since a sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in July. Tony Kanaan led 46 laps, and battled Tomas Scheckter in the final laps to finish fifth.

Vitor Meira moved up impressively in the final laps to take the checkered in seventh, just ahead of Delphi Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp.

Dan Wheldon (#26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 5th, finished 1st, an IRL record sixth win of 2005 and Honda's 11th victory, has all but clinched his first series title: "Obviously our thoughts have been with all the victims of Hurricane Katrina and with today being the fourth year since the 9-11 tragedy, it's been a tough day for everyone. But I think we put on a hell of a show. The Honda ran great all day, it carried us to victory, no doubt about it. We knew we had a quick car all weekend, but it was difficult to tell how good it was until we actually got out there and raced it. My engineer Eddie Jones made some great calls and the crew did a terrific job. The Penskes were very quick, but that's what you expect in a series this competitive. It's the best series in the world."

Danica Patrick (#16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 6th, her seventh top-10 finish of 2005, continues to lead the series Rookie standings: "We finally led the first lap from the pole, so I'm happy about that. In a lot of ways, it was a typical super-speedway race for us -- at times we'd drop back, but we were always able to come forward through the field again. On the last restart, we were running fourth, and I thought I heard [my spotter] say 'green green', so I got on the gas, but it was too early, so I had to get back behind [Tomas] Scheckter or get a penalty. Sixth is a good result for us. It's the first time we've finished near the front after starting from the pole, so that's real progress and I'm pleased with that."

Scott Sharp (#8 Delphi Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 9th, finished 8th, his 11th top-10 finish of 2005: "It was a tough day. We knew coming here that there would be multi-pack running in the race, and we have been struggling a bit with the handling of our car in turbulent air, and that's what this place is all about. It was a bit fluky. There were times when the car was really good, and I charged into the top five, but it wouldn't last long and then the handling would go off. When there are two or three rows of three-abreast in front, you have no downforce and any handling issues you have are exaggerated. But we're leaving with good [championship] points again, and we'll go on to Watkins Glen."

Buddy Rice (#15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 2nd, finished 13th: "I don't know if it was the heat or what, but the track felt slick today. The car was too loose, the car just didn't handle well in traffic. On the plus side, we had great pit stops today. I think we picked up at least two positions with every stop. But I just couldn't run in the pack like you need to here."


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Sam Hornis , Vitor Meira
Teams Team Penske