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Weldon Wins Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead

Courtesy IRL

By Dave Lewandowski

HOMESTEAD, Fla. March 26, 2006 ; Mixed emotions hit Dan Wheldon like a ton of bricks as the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car was wheeled into Victory Circle. Naturally, he was happy with his victory in the Toyota Indy 300, but saddened by the news of the death of fellow Indy Car Series competitor Paul Dana earlier in the day.

Wheldon beat Helio Castroneves to the finish line by 0.0147 of a second -- the ninth-closest finish in series history -- for his second consecutive victory in the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This one was decidely closer. Pole sitter Sam Hornish Jr., who had won three of the previous five races at the 1.5-mile oval, finished third. Dario Franchitti in fourth led Scott Dixon across the line.

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Wheldon had the No. 17 decal on his sidepods in honor of Dana, who died about three hours before the race as a result of injuries suffered in a practice crash.

"Hopefully we put on a good race on a very sad day," said Wheldon, the reigning IndyCar Series champion. "It is a very entertaining series, and certainly one of the most competitive in the world."

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Wheldon, who started sixth and led eight laps, moved alongside Castroneves for the lead on the final lap, and they ran wheel to wheel coming out of Turns 3 and 4.

"That's one of the things about the IndyCar Series; everybody respects each other an immense amount," said Wheldon, who picked up his first victory for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. "Whenever you run side by side with Helio, he gives you just enough room, and hoepfully I do the same."

Said Castroneves: "There was not even a hair between my tires and his tires. We were really close to each other. He was really smart. He did a great job. I did all I could. It wasn't meant to be. Hopefully, we'll get some more wins like that.

"My fans over there are really trying. (In) 2004, Sam won on the inside lane. This year, I said, 'No way I'm going to give up the inside lane,' and Dan did a hell of a job. Obviously today, you have to remember a big loss, which is a pity. All my thoughts are with Paul Dana's family." About third place

Hornish was runner-up to Wheldon last year and made that final-lap move on new teammate Castroneves to win in 2004 in his debut with Marlboro Team Penske. Penske cars led 187 laps, including 145 by Hornish.

"Just basically went out there and tried to do everything we could to right up there all the way through," the two-time IndyCar Series champion said. "Pitted at the wrong time (Lap 160) and ended up a lap down because of it. The crew did a great job in the pits today, and we led laps. We just didn't have enough at the end, didn't have enough time basically. We needed for it to be a 400-mile race today." Following through Fernandez Racing teammates Kosuke Matsuura and Scott Sharp finished sixth and seventh. Matsuura's effort tied his best of 2005. Felipe Giaffone, in his first race with A.J. Foyt Enterprises and the No. 14 ABC Supply car, was eighth. Vision Racing's Tomas Scheckter finished ninth and Eddie Cheever Jr., in an IndyCar Series car for his first race since 2002, completed the top 10. He said it Dixon, the 2003 IndyCar Series champion and Wheldon's teammate: "The cars were great today. A big thanks goes out to the guys on the team. They've worked really hard. Its been a couple tough years, but I think that's made us stronger. As you've seen, two of the teams that finished ahead of us also have struggled with power are back at the top and fighting for the lead. It's great for Dan to get a victory. We're just happy to know that each race weekend we go to now, we're going to be competing for a podium or a win." Related Stories 03/04 Part of Castroneves' life goes to the dogs 03/07 Castroneves ranks as top driver in Open Tests 03/22 Castroneves serves up special ride for Hingis 03/20 Carryover effect 03/25 Wheldon gets in a few shots

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