IRL: Wheldon wins Chicagoland shootout

Target Chip Ganassi driver Dan Wheldon won the battle and tied the war Sunday as he claimed victory in the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway outside Joliet, Illinois. His effort moved him into a tie for the points lead toward the...

Target Chip Ganassi driver Dan Wheldon won the battle and tied the war Sunday as he claimed victory in the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway outside Joliet, Illinois.

His effort moved him into a tie for the points lead toward the 2006 Indy Racing League IndyCar series championship, but it wasn't enough for him to claim the crown for a second consecutive year.

"The race was run aggressively," he said afterwards. "I had only one goal (to win). In the last few races I've let a result or two slip. Today it was about making a point for next year and doing everything in my power to win a championship. Target gave me a very good car all season. We led our share of laps this season--credit to the boys for that."

Wheldon again led the most laps, 166, as his domination on the track was matched by a letter-perfect day in the pits for his crew.

The 475 points he earned yearlong put the decision into a tie-breaker, most victories for the season, of which Wheldon had only two (Homestead/Miami and Chicagoland).

Marlboro/Team Penske's Sam Hornish Jr took the Indy Car series championship by virtue of four wins (Kentucky, Kansas, Richmond, and Indianapolis)

"It's been an unbelievable year. We've had our ups and downs. Certainly the highlight was winning Indy-that's my career highlight-and that catapulted us back into the championship hunt. We had to keep our composure and it worked out well," he said from the podium with his giant silver trophy at his feet.

"We just went out and tried to drive smart and stay with the leaders. We had no mistakes and my pit crew was awesome-same as they've been all season. I just tried not to get involved in any situations--stick my nose in an accident-and did everything to win the championship. I can't think how next year could be better but I'm sure it will be."

The championship is Hornish's third. He also won the drivers' crown in 2001 and 2002 driving for Panther Racing. He becomes the second straight to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar series championship in the same season, as Wheldon did in 2005.

The victory also gave team owner Roger Penske his first IndyCar series championship.

The race was run cleanly through of its full length as Wheldon led his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon and Hornish through the checkered flag. Two yellow flag periods, both for clearing the track of debris, accounted for the only twelve laps not competed at speed.

The race was a nose-to-tail affair between the three fastest qualifiers through its first 200 miles. Wheldon and Hornish paced Dixon around the 1.5 mile oval at speeds at or near their qualifying speeds over two hundred miles per hour.

The racetrack went temporarily yellow on lap 151 for debris pickup when a piece of foam from the headrest of one of the cars was identified on the course.

In the ensuing pitstop Wheldon came out of his pitbox with a great deal of wheelspin and Hornish nudged ahead of him as the two crossed the pit exit.

Wheldon quickly made amends for his slip by grabbing the lead back on a perfectly timed resumption of racing at the green flag on lap 155.

Scott Dixon took advantage of the draft and flashed by Hornish, along with Tony Kanaaan. Hornish then retook third by moving past Kanaan.

On lap 168 Dixon overtook his teammate and moved into the lead.

With twenty laps to go the race was led by the familiar front four of Dixon, Wheldon, Hornish and Castroneves in that order.

Driving side-by-side Dixon and Wheldon created a two hundred and fifteen mile per hour roadblock that no one could pass.

With four laps to go Dixon lost momentum moving into turn two when he lifted to avoid contact his teammate. Hornish then retook second, only to lose the position on the next lap to Dixon again.

The three drivers remained in the same position to the end of the race, with Wheldon taking his second win of the year in the final few ticks of the season.

Dixon finished second by 0.1897 seconds. His 416 points were good for fourth on the year.

"It was good today. We were very fast all day," he said. "We simply had more speed than the other cars."

"In the early laps we were not as quick as we should have been. Then midway through the race the car sped up for some reason. I was able to save fuel so I had more options at the end. All in all it was a good day and the fiftieth win for the team. It was a lot of fun."

Helio Castroneves finished fourth, nearly two and a half seconds to the rear of his championship-winning Penske teammate. He suffered a pit lane speed violation early in the race, then ran afoul of lapped traffic once he recovered from the gaffe and moved into the four-car pack that led near the finish.

Castroneves finished third in the drivers' championship race with 472 points, three behind the co-leaders at the conclusion.

The final season-long championship result was a 475 points tie between Wheldon and Hornish. The tie-breaker "Wins for the Season" count of two for Wheldon and four for Hornish gave the nod to the Penske driver to take home the trophy.

The win was Wheldon's second consecutive triumph at Chicagoland Speedway.

The average speed of 194.828 mph is the third-fastest IndyCar series race in history.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Scott Dixon , Dan Wheldon , Chip Ganassi , Roger Penske , Sam Hornis
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing