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For Wheldon, it's how you finish

6/27/2004

RICHMOND, Va. -- After 249 laps of bumping and jockeying
Saturday night, it was a one-lap sprint to the finish.

Dan Wheldon was the unlikely winner of the SunTrust Indy
Challenge, coming back from the 20th starting position to outsprint
pole-winner Helio Castroneves in the final turn on the
three-quarter-mile Richmond International Raceway.

"I don't think I had the quickest car today, but what helped me
was I could run a lot of laps on the Firestones and my car just
kept getting better and better,'' Wheldon said.

Coming out of a caution period with a lap remaining, Castroneves
blew by Vitor Meira on the inside of the first turn, then made a
run at Wheldon, falling short by 0.2038 seconds.

IRL officials later disallowed Castroneves' pass of Meira
because the track lights didn't change from yellow to green in the
final lap. Meira finished second in the official results and
Castroneves was third.

Wheldon, who won earlier this year in Japan, moved into second
place in the season standings, 17 points behind Tony Kanaan. It was
the fourth victory of the season for his team, Andretti Green
Racing.

The race turned on a crash involving Sam Hornish Jr. and Tomas
Scheckter in lap 188. Hornish tried to pass Scheckter on the
outside of the second turn and clipped the South African's front
wheel, sending himself into a slow 360.

Hornish, who led for 76 laps at the start of the race, was able
to continue but dropped to 16th. He finished in 13th place, while
Scheckter failed to finish.

"That's what can happen when we're that close,'' Hornish said.

Castroneves pitted during the caution at lap 192, while Wheldon
and Meira stayed on the track. Wheldon drove the final 121 laps
without refueling, while Meira went without a pit stop for 115
laps.

"It was all strategy,'' Meira said. "If it was green all the
way, we would have struggled a lot.''

Fortunately for Wheldon and Meira, there were 74 caution laps
during the race, including 20 in the first half when a light
drizzle started to fall on the track.

Castroneves and Hornish, Team Penske teammates, led for much of
the first half of the race, pulling ahead after every caution
period and opening leads of as many as six seconds on the rest of
the field.

"It was really not the fastest car that won,'' Castroneves
said.

Wheldon was actually lapped by Hornish early in the race.

Hornish lost the lead to Dario Franchitti after pitting during a
caution period at lap 113. Franchitti led for 79 laps, more than
any driver in the race, before he lost the lead to Wheldon during a
pit stop at lap 192.

Four drivers dropped out of the race following accidents and two
others failed to finish because of problems with their cars.

Darren Manning had worked his way from a starting position of
11th to sixth place before hitting the wall hard coming out of a
caution period in lap 132. The front part of Manning's car fell off
as he pulled into pit road.

Rookie Mark Taylor also had a disappointing race, starting third
after a surprisingly fast qualifying run Friday, but dropping to
18th place before crashing into the wall in lap 222.

Richmond's track, the shortest on the IRL circuit, was repaved
during the offseason, allowing 11 drivers to break Gil de Ferran's
track record during qualifying on Friday.

Wheldon said the track conditions made it easier to keep control
of his car, particularly in traffic.

"It seemed last year they strategically placed the bumps in
places where they more than likely would cause the driver the most
grief,'' he said.