Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Wheldon wins IRL race, Hornish claims series

AP , JOLIET, ILLINOIS

IRL driver Scott Dixon of New Zealand, 9, Dan Wheldon of England, 10, and Sam Hornish Jr., 6, race during the start of the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at ChicagoLand Speedway on Sunday.

PHOTO: AP

Dan Wheldon beat teammate Scott Dixon by 0.1897 seconds to win the PEAK Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, while Sam Hornish's third-place finish earned him the Indy Racing League championship.

Hornish and Wheldon finished the season with 475 points, but Hornish had four victories -- two more than Wheldon. And he did enough on Sunday to give Marlboro Team Penske owner Roger Penske his first championship and claim a US$1 million bonus.

The day began with Penske driver Helio Castroneves holding a one-point lead over Hornish with 431 points, with Wheldon and Dixon 19 and 21 points back. Castroneves placed fourth at Chicagoland and finished the season with 473 points, earning third place in the series. Dixon was placed fourth in the series with 460 points.

At the start, Wheldon and Dixon immediately jumped ahead and ran side-by-side, treating the opening laps as if they were the final ones, with Hornish close behind. Wheldon maintained the top spot most of the race, with Dixon and Hornish trading second and third.

With no margin for error, Castroneves committed a speeding violation early on in the pit and moved to the back of the pack. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was in fourth place after 62 laps, but he was in danger of falling out of contention before a yellow flag with 50 laps to go.

Trading leads

With about 30 laps left, Wheldon and Dixon began trading leads, one refusing to yield to the other. Not with the championship at stake -- and not with Hornish right behind.

Wheldon led with 10 laps to go and held the lead, while Dixon and Hornish shifted between the second and third spots over the final laps.

The way the season went, it was fitting that things ended in a tight race with Ganassi and Penske drivers both jockeying for position.

The teams dominated most of the year, winning the first nine races and 11 of 13 heading into the weekend. Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan broke through at the Milwaukee Mile, and 19-year-old Marco Andretti became the youngest winner of a major open-wheel race when he drove to victory lane at Infeon Raceway two weeks ago.

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