Wheldon Eyeing "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Pepsi and Edy's" Title
Third-place IndyCar Series championship driver Dan Wheldon began his preparation for the Aug. 9 "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Pepsi and Edy's" by participating in a five-team test today at Kentucky Speedway.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who won the 2005 series title with Andretti Green Racing, has tallied wins at Kansas and Iowa speedways this season. He will enter next Saturday's race ranked third in the series standings with a total of eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes. He trails championship leader and teammate Scott Dixon by 115 points with four races remaining and plans to finish what he's termed as a frustrating season on a strong note.
"The biggest frustration for me is that I haven't had a car that felt good for the whole weekend. We've had good sessions and bad sessions, but in a competitive situation, that's not going to win you races.
"I have a new engineer this year and trying to strike a rapport with somebody in a very intense season is somewhat difficult. We're definitely not working in unison yet. You're never always going to be 100 percent comfortable with your car, but you want confidence that in any given situation you can make the best happen. That's what we're lacking.
"You're not always going to have perfect seasons, but I really feel in these last four races, the tracks that we're going to, I feel confident I can make it a strong ending," Wheldon said.
With a remote chance of taking his second series title, Wheldon has set the goals of overtaking second-place championship driver Helio Castroneves and aiding Dixon's championship effort. "The thing now is to try to take as many points off Helio as I can. To some degree, I'll always support Scott to make sure the team can win the championship, but at the same time it would be nice to finish the season with a couple more wins.
"These last four races, I want to win, but if the team feels it's a benefit for me to do something to help Scott, then I absolutely will. I like to think I'm a real team player, but at the same time I really want to finish second in the championship. Hopefully, if we can get Scott locked up pretty quick, he can help me do that, too."
Wheldon, who ended a string of three consecutive top-five and four straight top-10 Kentucky finishes with a 17th-place run last season, expects a brand new "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Pepsi and Edy's" experience when he battles a field reinforced with talented drivers who previously raced on the Champ Car World Series circuit.
"This year, you're typically in traffic more during a race. Last year, if you were in traffic, there was such a speed difference from front to back, you could get through it. It wasn't like traffic, you'd just move up a lane and pass them. Now, it's so competitive that you have to be able to have a car that works to be able to pass them. The speed difference is much closer.
"Typically at a lot of these race tracks last year, we would just go for out and out speed. To some degree, if you do what you did last year, this year, it would compromise your car in lapped traffic. With the difference in strategies now, if the strategy is split, instead of just dropping back to sixth if some people stay out, you can drop as far back as 15th. That's something you have to bear in mind when you're setting up your race car," he concluded.
Graham Rahal, Raphael Matos, Vitor Meira and Justin Wilson also turned laps on the track today.
The fifth and final 2008 Kentucky Speedway race weekend opens with IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights Fanfest Aug. 8. Gates open at 3:00 p.m. The day includes practice and qualifying sessions before closing with a garage-area autograph session with competitors from both circuits.
Action continues Aug. 9 with an IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights primetime doubleheader on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tri-oval. Gates open at 2:00 p.m. Firestone Indy Lights practice begins at 2:30 p.m., and will be followed by an exclusive prerace concert with indie artist Josh Kelley on the Turn 1 Concourse at 4:30 p.m.
Sure-to-be-action-packed open-wheel racing begins at 6:30 p.m., with the "Meijer Indy 300 Presented by Pepsi and Edy's." The Firestone Indy Lights "Kentucky 100" will take the green flag at 9:15 p.m.
Tickets are on sale now and can be reserved online through the tickets pages of this Web site, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223), through any Meijer store and by visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., next to the Montgomery Inn Restaurant or the Sparta, Ky., Fan Center located off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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