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For Wheldon, direct route best

Dan Wheldon, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner, said the fleeting nature of both the Indy Racing League's marquee event and a racing career make candor a prerequisite for a driver because "it's very easy for a race team to go and get another driver. Would a team care if I'd won two Indy 500s when I retire? Probably not."

By BRANT JAMES
Published May 25, 2007


INDIANAPOLIS - Dan Wheldon, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner, said the fleeting nature of both the Indy Racing League's marquee event and a racing career make candor a prerequisite for a driver because "it's very easy for a race team to go and get another driver. Would a team care if I'd won two Indy 500s when I retire? Probably not."

Wheldon said he has had a realistic shot at winning in each of his four tries, three with Andretti Green Racing, when he finished 19th, third and first, and last year when he finished fourth in his first season with Ganassi Racing. And if he has to call out his team to keep it that way, so be it, he said.

"If that means getting (mad) at people because they've underperformed or didn't give me what I needed in qualifying, I'm going to do it, " said the St. Petersburg resident who is starting sixth Sunday. "And you know what? People sometimes can say I am very feisty, but I'm really not. I'm just very open and honest and I realize this is my career.

"If a team owner thought a driver was not performing, he'd have no problem in screaming and shouting at him and possibly even firing him. You've seen what Chip's done in the past."

In the past two years, Chip Ganassi has fired the underperforming Ryan Briscoe and Darren Manning from his IndyCar team and reduced his program from three to two cars. He has fired Sterling Marlin from his NASCAR team, allowed Jamie McMurray to leave and hired former Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya out of Formula One to replace Casey Mears, who also chose to leave.

FAME GAME: Nearly three years since the 2005 Indianapolis 500 made her the face of the IRL, driver Danica Patrick remains surprised with her status as a crossover pop culture icon. It all hit home when she was asked in the fall to appear in rapper Jay-Z's Show Me What You Got video.

"How does he even know my name?" said Patrick, who started and finished fourth in 2005 and led a lap, all records for a woman. "And he said to me on the phone (when) he wanted to talk about the idea of the video, he said, 'You're not doing what you do inside of a vacuum. Trust me, other people outside of your world know who you are.' "

Patrick was finally introduced to her popular NASCAR counterpart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also guest starred in the video.

"(He said) 'It was real nice to meet ya, ' " briefly affecting a country accent. "He's a super nice guy. I think we found it more surprising that our paths hadn't crossed ever before. Jay-Z was very happy he could facilitate the first introduction for Dale and I."