Everything on the line for Kanaan, Wheldon and Team 7-Eleven at Texas INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Oct. 7, 2003) -- Team 7-Eleven heads into this weekend's Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with an expanded two- car ...
Everything on the line for Kanaan, Wheldon and Team 7-Eleven at Texas
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Oct. 7, 2003) -- Team 7-Eleven heads into this weekend's Indy Racing League (IRL) IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with an expanded two- car lineup and is hoping to leave there with a race win, a championship and a rookie of the year crown. Tony Kanaan, who has wheeled the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone to within seven points of the top spot in the series point standings, enters the final round the 16- race tour knowing his second win of 2003 will secure his first-ever championship. Kanaan, who grabbed his first career IndyCar Series win earlier this year at Phoenix International Raceway, has scored nine top-five finishes in 2003 -- one of which came at Texas on June 7 when he finished second to Al Unser Jr. by .081 of a second. Dan Wheldon, who will drive the #7 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone in a one- race deal that marks another series visit to 7-Eleven's home market, is making a serious bid to win rookie of the year honors despite not running the first two races of the season. The 25-year old Englishman regularly pilots the #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Honda-powered Dallara and has driven that entry to within four points of Roger Yasukawa in the rookie standings. Wheldon's impressive season has been fueled by a strong second-half in which he has recorded four top- fives, six top 10s and has scored enough points to rank fifth among all drivers in the seven races since the July 19th event at Nashville Superspeedway. Kanaan and Wheldon will take their first steps toward winning their respective titles during qualifying, which is set for 7:30 p.m. (EDT) Friday. Sunday?s 200-lap season finale starts at 3:45 p.m. (EDT) and airs live on ESPN.
TONY KANAAN, #11 TEAM 7-ELEVEN DALLARA/HONDA/FIRESTONE: (ON HIS APPROACH TO THE FINAL RACE)
"The most important thing to do is win the race. I think the way that I am approaching the Texas weekend is going to be to qualify in the front and be in the front and lead the most laps and win the race. That is what I am going to try to do. It is not that I am going to drive any different, but I am going for the win. I have no other choice. Only the win matters to us right now."
ON THE PRESSURE OF RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AT TEXAS
"Mentally, we have to be very strong and try to not take the pressure as a disadvantage. The way that I will approach the race is like it is going to be a close race. You are not going to see people driving away from people, so we have to be patient and smart to be able to position ourselves for the win at the end. And, the key to doing that is to be calm and that is what I am going to try to do. The way that I am going to approach the weekend is aggressive, but being smart and calm."
ON RACING IN FRONT OF SUCH A LARGE CROWD AT TEXAS
"It is going to be like Indianapolis, and for me it is even better because it is 7-Eleven?s hometown. I am going to have a lot of fans cheering for me and it just makes it more exciting. We race for the fans. We race for them to watch us; we race for them to get excited with what we do. So, we are going to try to put on a good show. For me, it is going to be the little butterfly in the stomach before the start when I see that place packed like Indianapolis, and you cannot see an empty seat on the grandstand, and when they announce your name the fans cheer you up. I cannot describe it. It is going to be awesome."
KIM GREEN, PRESIDENT, ANDRETTI GREEN RACING:
"In the points position we're in, we are a bit of an underdog. But, we can deal with that. We've worked very, very hard to get in this position, but we have worked that much harder getting ready for this last race. The amount of effort and attention to detail that is going into this from everybody in the shop and everybody at Honda is all to give Tony [Kanaan] a chance. We just want to have a chance to race everybody fairly and may the best team win. It's certainly going to be very exciting and maybe a touch stressful for the owners and maybe a touch stressful for the person running the pit, which happens to be me. I'm certainly going to try to make it a fun weekend and try to keep everybody on the team relaxed. We just need to be fun and focused."
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU RUN THE TEXAS RACE IN YOUR HEAD IN THE PAST TWO WEEKS?
"I've already run it quite a few times. We?ve also had a lot of discussions internally about what we need to do. Basically it's all about giving Tony a race car that he can race on equal terms with every other contender. As a driver, he is as good as anybody out there -- we think he's the best out there -- so, it's all about giving him a race car that is fast enough for that last sprint to the finish. Texas history shows it will be a close finish and that it will be side- by-side racing. We believe one of the most important parts of the race will be the last pit stop -- whenever that last pit stop takes place."
DAN WHELDON, #7 TEAM 7-ELEVEN DALLARA/HONDA/FIRESTONE:
Obviously, I feel that I can win the race if the stars all line up my way. But, there is a lot at stake for our whole team in Texas. I want to help Tony win the overall championship and I want to win rookie of the year. If I can do all that in one day I'll be very, very happy. Basically, what I need to do is go out with the same mentality that I've had all year and do what I can do. If it happens where I can help Tony [Kanaan] and be far enough ahead of Roger [Yasukawa] to where I can win rookie of the year, then so-be-it. But, it's hard to predict what is going to happen. It's the last race. There is a lot of stuff going on for different people. I've just got to do the best I can and see where I end up. I'm very confident we'll be very strong again. I definitely enjoy (racing at Texas), but it's going to be so close. We're at a point now in the season where the difference between the quickest car and the slowest car is not very much, so I think you're going to see cars running side-by-side and in line for a big part of the race. You'll just have to concentrate, make sure your car is good in traffic, make sure your car is fast and then put yourself in a position to be in the front three for those last couple of laps."
TONY COTMAN, TEAM MANAGER, TEAM 7-ELEVEN:
Dan has improved a lot over the season. We've contended a lot in the last four or five races and it's just a matter of when it's going to happen, not if it's going to happen. I'd love to get away from Texas with a podium at minimum. I'd really like a win and I think he can win. We've just got to focus on having a good race car and we?ve really got to work during the race to try to get Dan to the right place at the right time. At the end of the race, that means putting him in a position to give him a chance to win, if nothing else. From the team-side of things, I think we can do that. In the same token, there is a championship being competed for and everybody out there has to be careful not to screw that up, not to get in the way of it and remembering that one of our teammates (Tony Kanaan). We'll go out there, give it our best like we always do and see what we're dealt."
ON THE PROGRESS OF DAN AND THE TEAM THIS YEAR
"I think we've made really good ground, especially on the speedways or the larger tracks. We really need some improvements on the shorter tracks. But, he hasn't done a full season, yet. That's part of being a rookie. He needs to learn how we work. We need to learn what he wants in the car, which is something we just really have come to grips with. When you have a rookie it generally takes time to develop him and I think that is the goal. Everything he has learned this year he can apply to next year to have a fair shot at the championship."
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