(by Dave Lewandowski indycar.com 10-6-11)
The odds posted by MGM Resorts International Race & Sports Books on Dan Wheldon fulfilling the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge are 15/1. He’s been a bigger underdog – as recently as the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 in May.
He won that race in dramatic fashion, and seeks to add $2.5 million to his season earnings by taking the checkered flag in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships Presented by Honda on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’ll split $5 million with the entrant selected from the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge sweepstakes.
There is a twist, though, as Wheldon will start from the rear of the series-record (non-Indianapolis 500) 34-car field. Helio Castroneves holds the IZOD IndyCar Series record for winning from the furthest starting position – 27th at Chicagoland Speedway in 2008.
“When you look at the depth of the field, it’s going to be incredibly tough,” said Wheldon, who will drive the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia car prepared by Sam Schmidt Motorsports.”
He does expect it to be quick on the 1.5-mile oval. The Honda-powered 2008 Dallara sped to the Indianapolis 500 pole and two weeks later earned the pole at Texas Motor Speedway – a 1.5-mile oval similar to Las Vegas Motor Speedway – both with Alex Tagliani driving.
“I think we all know what this team is capable of and what everybody that’s been part of the team has helped do for tracks like Vegas,” Wheldon continued. “I feel we’ll have a very fast race car. You go to win. As competitive as it is, you have to be very detail-oriented and make sure you have a very fast car.”
Wheldon, who spent seven weeks as the driver of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series car during its chassis validation program, returned to competition at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2 in the No. 77 entry. Starting 28th, he advanced to 14th in the 200-lap race on the 1.5-mile oval.
“I think we learned over the weekend that you need everything right to be able to move forward,” the2005 IZOD IndyCar Series champion said. “We need to work on the race car’s balance a little bit. Vegas is going to be a totally different track than Kentucky. I think it’s going to be more Texas-like and Alex was on the pole at Texas.
“For me, (14th) was an incredibly disappointing result, but by the same token I believe it was good to get back in the swing of things, to do pit stops and get in that competitive environment. Now that we’ve worked together and learned some things at Kentucky, we’ll have a car that’s much better in traffic.
“Hopefully, that experience will help me be on top of my game when we get to Vegas because we’ll need to be.”
Longtime friend and on-track competitor Dario Franchitti wishes Wheldon success (“Dan is one of the best mile-and-a-half circuit drivers I know,” he said) but not at the expense of his own.
"I'd rather win. Sorry, Dan," Franchitti said.
Franchitti, the championship points leader by 18 over Will Power, is a 9/5 favorite to win the race, which would lock up his fourth title. Power is listed as a 2/1 pick on the MGM Resorts International Race & Sports Books.