Wheldon Wins the Race; Hornish Takes the Title at Chicagoland Speedway JOLIET, Ill. (Sept. 10, 2006) - The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season ended as it began on Sunday - with Dan Wheldon celebrating in Gatorade Victory Lane at Chicagoland ...
Wheldon Wins the Race; Hornish Takes the Title at Chicagoland Speedway
JOLIET, Ill. (Sept. 10, 2006) - The 2006 IRL IndyCar Series season ended as it began on Sunday - with Dan Wheldon celebrating in Gatorade Victory Lane at Chicagoland Speedway.
A new twist came in the form of the now three-time series champion Sam Hornish Jr.
The series-deciding and season-ending PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 presented by Mr. Clean at Chicagoland Speedway culminated with series defending champion Wheldon taking the checkered flag, but Hornish winning the series title. The race was the ultimate conclusion in a season-long, four-way battle between the series' two most dominant teams - Marlboro Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Only 21 points separated the top four drivers leading into the season finale race. Helio Castroneves was one point ahead of Penske teammate Hornish; third-place Wheldon was 19 out, and his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon was 21 points out in fourth.
All Castroneves needed to do to win his first series title was win the race; same thing for Hornish. Wheldon and Dixon needed a little more intervention and some bad luck to befall the Penske duo to have a shot.
Wheldon needed to lead the most laps - which he did from the start. The Englishman took control of the race early and led 166 of the race's 200 laps, shattering the previous track record of 84 laps led set by Jaques Lazier on Sept. 2, 1001. Dixon also led some, 23 in all.
Castroneves was penalized early with a pit speed violation and battled lapped traffic throughout most of the 300-mile race. He fell as low as 20th and fought his way back but it wasn't enough.
For Hornish, patience was a virtue and a strategy that made the difference at the end. He finished the race third behind Wheldon and Dixon, tying to stay in sight of the race leaders so he could claim the title.
"We went out there, trying to be as smart as we could and just keep up with the leaders," Hornish said. "It turned out we did everything we needed to do to win the championship."
Castroneves finished the race fourth. He wound up third in the final points standings - just two points shy of the leaders. Dixon finished the season fourth in points.
Wheldon made a valiant run at the title with the win. He finished the season second in points by default. Series rules dictate the tie-breaker goes to the driver with the most victories. Hornish's four series wins this season (Indianapolis, Richmond, Kansas and Kentucky) were just enough to beat Wheldon's two (Homestead-Miami and Chicagoland).
"I wasn't going to let that one get away," Wheldon said of the win. "At the end, I was pretty aggressive. Sometimes you've got to be that way."
Hornish, 27, is the series' only three-time champion. He also won the Indianapolis 500 this year, claiming that as his most memorable accomplishment.
"This is as excited as I've ever been," Hornish said following his title win. "The first two came a little easier than this one."
The four drivers were the only drivers to finish the race on the lead lap.
Ed Carpenter finished the race fifth, with Vitor Meira, Tony Kannan, Jeff Simmons, Scott Sharp and Tomas Scheckter rounding out the top 10.
This was also the fastest race in Chicagoland Speedway history, lasting only 1 hour, 37 minuets, 2662 seconds (194.828 mph). The previous track record was set back on Sept. 7, 2003 after that race lasted 1 hour, 38 minutes, 58.3310 seconds (184.294 mph).