Wheldon won at Motegi last month

Updated: May 10, 2004, 7:09 PM ET
Associated Press

Dan Wheldon
Wheldon
INDIANAPOLIS -- Success hasn't changed Dan Wheldon's approach.

A month after winning his first Indy Racing League event, Wheldon insists he still abides by the same, cautious philosophy.

"You've got to do what you can do," he said after wrapping up practice Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It's one win. There are too many good cars out there to get excited."

The 25-year-old Wheldon has emerged as one of the most consistent drivers on the IRL circuit since joining the series full-time last year.

He won the series' rookie of the year award, was 11th in the points standings and finished 13 of 16 races. He had five top-five finishes, including a career-best third in the season finale at Texas.

But this has been Wheldon's breakthrough season.

After three races, he leads the IRL standings with 123 points. Brazil's Tony Kanaan, Wheldon's teammate with Andretti Green Racing, is second at 117.

This year, Wheldon has started from the pole twice, finished third in the first two races of the season -- at Homestead, Fla., and Phoenix -- and won from the pole at Motegi, Japan, last month.

On Sunday, Wheldon, who is from England, again was near the top.

His fastest lap, 218.007 mph, was the best during the first four hours of practice Sunday. He was off the track when the shade cooled the front straight, allowing four other drivers to pass him in the final hour.

He still finished with the fifth-fastest lap of the day and afterward appeared unfazed.

"It means nothing until Saturday," he said. "It means something Saturday at 6 o'clock."

Wheldon was referring to the end of Pole Day, the first of three days of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which will be run on May 30.

Making up time fast
Robby Gordon has to make up time quickly because the full-time NASCAR Nextel Cup driver will not be able to practice here Thursday and Friday.

The Nextel Cup stops next weekend at Richmond International Raceway and Gordon's cutoff time for making a qualifying run is Saturday at 3 p.m. ET so he can return in time for the NASCAR night race.

Gordon already had a hectic weekend after finishing 10th in Saturday night's NASCAR Busch series race outside St. Louis.

Gordon used Sunday's opening day of Indy 500 practice for minimal setup laps on his primary and backup Meijer/Coca-Cola Dallara-Chevrolets. In just six laps, he went 215.317 miles per hour in the primary car.

Earlier, he did 209.733 mph in 11 laps in the backup entry.

"Today's goal was to run both cars and not have any problems,"Gordon said on Sunday. "It was a good function check day, and that was Thomas' (team manager-enginer Thomas Knapp) plan all along. We tried one new setup on the backup car and then went back to what we learned in the test here a week ago."

Monday didn't go quite as smoothly for Gordon, however. Moments after completing his fastest lap of the day, Gordon hit the wall Monday during Indy 500 practice.

He wasn't injured.

Gordon, who had just turned a lap at 218.446 mph, lost control in the second turn, slid across the track, spun and hit the outside wall with the left side of his car.

He was out of the car unharmed, and the Dallara was hauled back to the garage with damage to the left side.

It was the first crash in two days of practice for the May 30 race.

Green flag

Sarah Fisher
Fisher
Thirty-three cars made it onto the track Sunday, but the first on the oval had special significance.

Sarah Fisher, the league's most popular driver the last three years, took the green flag from her mother, Reba.

"Waving that green flag for Sarah meant the world to me, making this one of the greatest Mother's Day any mom could ask for," Reba Fisher said. "The hardest part was holding back the tears in front of everyone. I didn't want to see pictures of me crying up there."

It's been another difficult season for Fisher, who has struggled to keep a full-time ride the past few years.

She missed the IRL's first three races before reaching a deal with Kelley Racing to compete in the No. 39 car for this month's race.

Fisher, the only woman driver in the IRL and at 23 one of the younger drivers on the circuit, had her best lap of the day late in the session, turning a 215.358. She was 18th on the speed chart, just behind teammate Scott Sharp, who had a 215.367.

But it was her speed, not her mother's presence, that made the biggest impact.

"We started off quite a bit different from where we had been at the open test," she said. "This afternoon, we went back about halfway on what we had been running at the test and it was a huge change. We've still got some work to do."

Heating up
When Fisher made it onto the track, the air temperature was 82 degrees and the track temperature was 130 degrees.

As the temperature climbed to 84 late in the afternoon, so did the humidity, which reached 94 percent.

But unlike Sunday's mini-marathon, track officials reported no medical-related problems from the heat. Track officials said no fans were treated at the infield hospital.

During Saturday's 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, 32-year-old John Washal of Fishers collapsed and died.

Pit pass
Sam Hornish Jr. did not drive Sunday because of an upper respiratory infection. Hornish, a two-time IRL points champ who drives for Roger Penske's team, was the fastest in both days of the open test last month. ... Thirty-nine drivers passed their physicals by the end of Sunday's practice. Forty-three cars had passed inspection. ... The 33 cars that made it onto the track was the most on a scheduled opening day since 1999, when 38 cars turned laps.

Information from SportsTicker was used in this report.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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