tampabay.com

Wheldon's next goal? One lap at Watkins

By Times Staff
Published September 13, 2005


It's been a frenetic season for Dan Wheldon. His victory on Sunday at Chicago gave him the Indy Racing League's single-season win record with six.

All he has to do now is bide his time for two weeks and be as slow and careful as necessary to make sure his Andretti Green Honda completes a practice lap at Watkins Glen. When that happens, the St. Petersburg resident will earn enough points to become the first Indianapolis 500 winner to follow with a driver championship in the same year in IRL's 10-year history.

And it will mean that the champions of both major North American open-wheel series will pay property taxes in Pinellas County next year. One already does. Sebastien Bourdais , the Champ Car champ, holds a 61-point lead with four races left as he tries to win another.

Settling in and enjoying the area when his schedule dictates, Bourdais will attend his first Devil Rays game this week. If only his testing schedule had allowed him to go tonight, he could have watched Wheldon, winner of the April 3 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, throw out the first pitch against the Yankees.

WATCH OUT: Before finishing second at Chicago, Helio Castroneves said his season was disappointing not because he's 170 points behind Wheldon, but because of reckless driving by some of his competitors. Castroneves was wrecked 12 laps into the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and 19 in at Sonoma a few weeks ago by rookie Ryan Briscoe , who was involved in a fiery car-splitting wreck on Sunday.

"A lot of races a lot of people drove into me by silly mistakes and cost us a lot of points, so I would hope it would be much better," he said before Thursday's IROC race at Richmond, Va. "I think (it's a) lack of patience. It's a matter of trying to get to the front too fast early in the race."

Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, has never won an IRL title. He's fifth, 13 points behind Dario Franchitti .

UPDATE: Briscoe, who suffered two broken collarbones, a concussion, a bruised lung and contusions to his legs and arms in the crash, was transported Monday to Indianapolis' Methodist Hospital, where he could remain under evaluation until midweek. "I remember the initial contact with Alex ( Barron ) and thought that we might just get away with not hitting the wall," said Briscoe, a 23-year-old Australian. "But suddenly I was airborne and the rest is a little fuzzy."

OCTOBER SURPRISE: Roush Racing team president Geoff Smith told the State of Columbia, S.C., that there are no apparent loopholes in defending Nextel Cup series champion Kurt Busch 's contract that would allow him to join Penske Racing South in 2006. Busch has signed to replace the retiring Rusty Wallace in Penske's No. 2 Dodge for 2007.

"In this environment that we're in, where there are tens of millions of dollars at play, the penalty (for breaking the contract without release) is almost beyond calculation when it comes to the cost of running a race team and having to rebuild it from scratch," Smith said.

SPARK PLUGS: Veteran Sterling Marlin, 48, who is being pushed out of his No. 40 Dodge ride at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates at the end of the season, agreed to replace Scott Riggs at MB2 Motorsports next season. Riggs followed his sponsor, Valvoline, to its new Cup program at Evernham Motorsports for next season. Marlin said he hopes to race two more seasons.