Dan Wheldon won his third IndyCar Series race of the season today at Nazareth Speedway. His victory in the Firestone Indy 225 was decisive, as he crossed the finish line more than three and a half seconds ahead of Andretti-Green Racing teammate...
Dan Wheldon won his third IndyCar Series race of the season today at Nazareth Speedway. His victory in the Firestone Indy 225 was decisive, as he crossed the finish line more than three and a half seconds ahead of Andretti-Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan. Kanaan was, in turn, just half a second ahead of third teammate Dario Franchitti. Bryan Herta, the fourth member of the team, finished a respectable eighth, making it a very good day for team owner, Nazareth native and winner of the first Indy car race on the one-mile paved oval, Michael Andretti.
"I think it's a fantastic team achievement," Wheldon said. "I keep hearing a lot of grumbling, they say Andretti-Green are dominant on the one mile ovals. Perhaps it looks like that on paper, but it's certainly not the case.
"I think that Penske was very strong today. I think Rahal was very strong. But there is no getting away from the fact that our guys did an absolutely fantastic job today. To have three cars on the podium in the Indy Racing League today is an exceptional achievement. I think my guys got me out of the pits very, very quickly on the final pit stop. That won me the race. Once I was out, the car was very, very good."
Second place was Tony Kanaan, who had dogged the Penskes cars that dominated the first three-quarters of the race.
"We needed a win for Michael and for Andretti-Green Racing," Kanaan said. "We didn't just get the win, we got a 1-2-3 in his last race here, so it couldn't be better than that."
Dan Wheldon's final lead was due in part to teamwork by Tony.
"He had the better car," Tony explained. "That's why he was in the lead. I was trying so hard. But towards the end, I made the decision. Just in case Buddy (Rice) gets around Dario and comes towards me, I'll give Dan a better gap. I'd rather have my teammate winning the race than anybody else. I decided that two laps into the final stint. I made my choice - I'll give Dan a gap. He was pulling away anyway because he had a better car."
The "3" in the 1-2-3 finish was Dario Franchitti, who also celebrated in the team's triumph.
"It was a typical Nazareth race," Dario said, "exciting at points, frustrating at other points. First stint I don't think we had a good balance in the car, kind of struggled around there a little bit. We improved each stop, so the car got progressively better.
"Traffic played a big part. There was one point where I went from fifth to seventh and back to fourth all in one lap. Some guys you could see were going horribly loose. We had to make places when we could. I'm pretty glad we got the car good for the end because Buddy was trying hard to pass me; I was trying to stay ahead of him. Pretty quick pace at the end. 1-2-3 for Andretti-Green is pretty special. We're just missing Bryan there, but he's a massive part of our success."
Team owner Michael Andretti was clearly delighted with the outcome. "This is huge," he said, "this being the last race. This makes it feel a little better to go out like this. You know, for me it's by far the biggest race of my career in terms of a team owner, and then to do it with a 1-2-3 finish. The only way we could have done any better is 1-2-3-4.
"Bryan was still up there," Michael noted. "He finished eighth. It was just an amazing, amazing day, one that I'm definitely going to remember."
The first non-Andretti-Green car over the line was Buddy Rice, who came from a mid-field start to a very strong fourth place finish.
"I was driving that Pioneer/Argent car pretty damn hard today," Buddy said after the race. "I was sometimes shifting as many as three gears down in Turn 3. I know that I was using the gearbox very hard. I think I used up all the brakes, too. I was trying to get some runs on the guys in front, and I was working the car all over the track. I burned the tires off in the first stint, because I was trying to get by guys in some places I shouldn't have. That made the car push a little too much, but after the first pit stop the car was good. I was happy with my car after that. I just had to find a line I could run today. I was trying to fake some guys out on the restarts, and it worked a couple of times.
"This makes up for the Colorado race. We had a solid day."
For a while it looked like fellow Pennsylvanian Roger Penske would walk away with team honors for this final race at the one mile "roval" that Penske paved almost 20 years ago. The two Marlboro Team Penske cars filled the front row, and dominated the first three quarters of the race, leading all but one of the first 145 laps of the 225 lap event. Their domination eroded when Helio Castroneves, the pole sitter and leader for 100 laps, got caught in traffic and fell behind, eventually finishing fifth as his car's handling faded. Fellow Penske driver Sam Hornish took over and led for 44 laps. Sam's run at the front ended on lap 146 when he pulled out of the pits with the fuel hose attached. The pit fire was extinguished by copious buckets of water, with Roger Penske himself pouring the first bucket onto the inferno. Sam's car was afire as he pulled out, and he returned after one lap to have the car doused. Despite an additional visit to the pits for a drive-through penalty, he finished the race on the lead lap but in eleventh place.
"It's a shame what happened today," Hornish said of the incident. "Marlboro Team Penske gave me a great car, and we were running real strong until our second pit stop. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and tried to leave the pits too soon.
"The most important thing is that nobody got hurt."
The pit fire occurred during yellow-flag stops during a caution brought out by Ed Carpenter's contact with the outside and inside walls on the back stretch. Carpenter was uninjured. There were two other cautions due to wall contact during the race. On lap 59, Mark Taylor wound up on the outside wall in Turn 2 after contact with Townsend Bell. Taylor was uninjured, though finished for the day. Bell continued, but his day ended on lap 182 when he and Scott Sharp contacted each other in Turn 3, then contacted the outside wall in Turn 4. Both drivers climbed, uninjured, from the remains of their machines.
Tony Kanaan remains at the top of the championship standings, with 503 points. Wheldon's win moved him up to second place, with 431 points, while Buddy Rice fell to third place with 427 points.
The next IndyCar Series event is on September 12 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be telecast live on ABC TV at 1:30 PM EDT.