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IndyCar Series: Firestone Indy 225

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Firestone Indy 225

IndyCar Series: Firestone Indy 225

Michael Andretti
Dario Franchitti
Tony Kanaan
Dan Wheldon
August 29, 2004


LEHIGH VALLEY, PENNSYLVANIA

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome our second and third place finishers. Tony Kanaan finished second, Dario Franchitti finished third. Dario, tell us a little about your day, how it went today.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: It was a typical Nazareth race, exciting at points, frustrating at other points. First stint I don't think we had a good balance in the car, kind of struggled around there a little bit. We improved each stop, so the car got progressively better. Traffic played a big part. There was one point I went from 5th to 7th back to 4th all in one lap. Some guys you could see were going horribly loose. We had to make places when we could. Pretty glad we got the car good for the end because Buddy was trying hard to pass me, I was trying hard to stay ahead of him. Pretty quick pace at the end there. 1, 2, 3 for Andretti Green is pretty special. We're just missing Bryan there, but he's a massive part of our success.

THE MODERATOR: Tony Kanaan, you had a successful day. Sure you would like to be in No. 1, but No. 2 has to be pretty good for you. How about your day?

TONY KANAAN: It was a good day. Like Dario said, it was very exciting at one point, very frustrating in the others. When we got to the last stop, I knew, knowing Tony, that is Dan's guy in the strategy, I knew they were going to short fuel to put him ahead of everybody. Sure enough, he was ahead. I knew at that point there was no way I could pass him. We had the same car, almost the same setup, the three of us. I had to wait for the traffic to try to pass him. Obviously, we got two yellows between that period and we never got enough traffic for me to try to get a run on him. I sat there and protect my position. I had my big, big teammate behind me protecting me for sure. I wasn't worried about that. I knew if he was going to pull a move on me, it wouldn't be reckless. I just tried to control his pace and Buddy's pace. I knew Dan was gone. At that point I chose to stay and finish second.

THE MODERATOR: Was there any word from the pits about being careful if you pass for the lead? Just every man for himself at that point?

TONY KANAAN: No, I mean, we talk. We talk every day about that. We had a chat this weekend, the four of us. Just said on the last restart, "Guys, take care of each other." That's what we did. We were racing so hard towards the end. If you guys were in the car, you would imagine it. We just need to take care of each other for sure. 1, 2, 3 is great for the team, great for Michael. We just need to bring Dario up to third place in the championship and it will be a good - 1, 2, 3. It's going to be done by the end of the year for sure.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. Was there more passing today than usual?

TONY KANAAN: I think it was. But just -- you only saw passing when people caught traffic. I think you saw more passing because people's cars went off more than they used to. You catch traffic more often, and you get bunched up, then you see passing.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: The heat, as well. That's the reason guys' cars were going off. Not much grip out there.

Q. Tony, you mentioned that Dan's crew chief sent him out with perhaps a little short fuel. Was there any expectation that perhaps he might run dry in the situation?

TONY KANAAN: They had to save fuel. But the amount of fuel you had to save without a yellow, which rarely you see in the last 70 laps not a single yellow. They probably expect that. Once you put yourself in the front, you can save fuel maybe running two, three, four tenths slower than the guy behind you. I still don't think we could pass him anyway. He could run out of fuel if it was green the whole time. Obviously, they took a big gamble. They can. They need to do that if he wants to win the championship. We're running a little bit more conservative because we can't afford that. When you put yourself in that position, it's great to lead a championship. Sometimes a gamble pays off. It did for them today. He drove a great race, drove a great car. Can't take that away from him.

Q. Tony, and Helio traded spots in a three or four lap stretch. Can you take us through that passing sequence there?

TONY KANAAN: He got traffic, I passed him. I'm like, good. Next lap I get traffic, he passes me. Last lap, he got traffic, I pass him back. Same thing, I get traffic he passes me back. Then I pass him back again. So basically it was just traffic situation. It was fun. It was just a position of like where you going to position yourself. I mean, never know what the lap car is going to do. At one point he came towards me, and at one point he went towards him. At one point I was lucky enough that I put -- he made the wrong choice in the fastest corner of the track, which was turn two, then a bunch of cars pass him. I think it was like three cars. That was it. He gave me a little break.

Q. Dario, could you go over your dicing with Buddy there. He said one thing on TV, but something a little different over the radio. What was going on there? The B word came up.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: You should hear my radio (laughter). Did you anybody see me blow? Around here, in order to pass somebody, you got to be a lot quicker. We've seen that all day. Traffic plays into it. Traffic wasn't playing into it. Buddy was getting a run off of two. I was braking in three. No point he was alongside of me, none of that stuff. I'm sure the adrenaline was running, the championship's up for grabs. When he sits down, he looks at it, he's going to say -- he'll see it for what it was: it was both of us out there racing, he wasn't fast enough to pass. That's the frustration of a track like this. That was it.

Q. Dario, we know track position is extremely critical. This is three races in a row with a pit fire. You had one last week.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Didn't have a pit fire. We had an incident.

Q. What can be done to keep that from happening? Is there anything that the league can do to stop those cars before they leave?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, we stopped last week in time. I moved two feet, it was far enough that it injured my guy, but it didn't stretch the hose. Whatever conclude done, I'm sure that Brian Barnhart, the rest of the guys whose job that is, will be looking at that carefully, coming up with some new stuff. They're always trying to improve safety. They'll just keep doing that, keep looking for something to improve it.

Q. Both of you could talk about what this means to your team owner. Won the first race here as a driver. Bookends it, guys sweeping.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: He's got to be happy. He's a happy guy right now. He's jumping up and down in pit lane. It was a good result today, 1, 2, 3, almost perfection. You'll see him when he shows up here in a minute or two. He's a pretty happy guy.

Q. How much does it mean to you guys to be able to do it for him?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Michael has been a good team boss to me. He's been a good friend, as well. Whatever you can do, whether it's win a race, give him a 1, 2, 3 today, he always want to please the boss. We all did that today.

TONY KANAAN: He probably invites you to another party in his house tonight. He's very excited. We worked so hard. The goal was to come here and win the race for him, no matter who it was. I think we did better than that. We finished 1, 2, 3. We won every single mile oval race this year with this team. That proves that we have a very strong team. Makes the boss happy. It's always good.

Q. Any feeling not coming back here anymore that you wish you could, feelings about this place, memories you might have from prior that makes it more special?

TONY KANAAN: Well, obviously if you make a last time everybody will be very nostalgic about it. I probably seen more fans here than I ever seen. We should probably tell every place we go that it's the last race of the year. People will show up. But it's sad. You know, I like this place. I think every driver does. There are people that love it, there are people that hate it just because it's such a difficult place to drive around. That's what makes it I think challenging for us. Losing a track like this for us it's bad, from a driver's standpoint. If people don't show up, there is no race. I mean, we're here. It's an entertainment business. We're here to race for the people to watch. If they don't come to watch, we have to go places that they want to come watch us. Hopefully we'll find a couple places in the road courses next year. We'll keep bringing people like we do in the other events.

Q. It seemed like something more than just an accident. At 200 laps, you were a second behind. At the finish, you were three and a half seconds behind. Seemed to be pulling away from you a 10th of a second each lap.

TONY KANAAN: I think he had a better car. That's why he was in the lead. I was trying so hard. Towards the end, like I said, I made a decision 50 laps to go, I knew I couldn't pass him. I said, just in case Buddy gets around Dario and comes towards me, I'll give them a better gap. I'd rather have my teammate winning the race than anybody else. I made that decision. I think I made the decision that I was not going to win that race after two laps at the restart, two laps into the last stint. I knew I couldn't pass him. I said, I'll hang in there. I was pushing hard to give Dario some air so he could run in clean air. After that I made my choice. I'll give them a gap. He was pulling away anyway because he had a better car.

Q. (Inaudible)?

TONY KANAAN: I don't think I would take that risk at that time. We did do that in the back straightaway, the three of us. That was fine with me. It was after the checkered flag.

Q. In the beginning of the race, how hard was it to stay with the Penske cars? Did it look like they had the upper hand at that point?

TONY KANAAN: I think so. I think in the beginning of the race, I was trying to take it easy, feel my car, not to overdo. Might could cost me towards the end of the stint. I knew everybody was going to try to take it very easy because of the heat conditions. We had a Silver Crown race. The track was different. The probability to have a yellow, it would be much less in the middle of the race. It could go green for 75 laps and that could wear my tire a lot. But they seemed very, very strong at the beginning. They able to pull away from me a pretty good gap. But I knew they were going to get traffic so I didn't even push that hard. As soon as we got traffic, we got bunched up again. I almost passed Hornish. We started to play again. In this kind of race, pushing to have a huge lead I don't think is a big advantage because eventually you going to catch traffic

Q. How did the Silver Crown race affect the track? Slipperier or more grip?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: We find the same thing in warm-up yesterday directly after the midgets yesterday. They use the same tire. It doesn't work well with our Firestone. Basically for the first stint, the track was like an ice rink today. The track definitely improved from then on. But definitely low-grip situation to start with. We kind of expected that. We dialed our car in slowly from that each progressive pit stop. The one thing we didn't want to do was go horribly loose in that first stint and lose a bunch of places. I think we played it quite safely.

THE MODERATOR: Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, thank you very much. Congratulations. We'd like to welcome Andretti Green Racing, racing legend, Michael Andretti. Congratulations. You have the Top 3 finishes. You won the very first race here, now you won the very last one.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: This is huge, obviously this being the last race. This makes it feel a little bit better to go out like this. You know, for me it's by far the biggest race of my career in terms of team owner and then to do it with a 1, 2, 3 finish. The only way we could have done any better is 1, 2, 3, 4. Bryan was still up there. He finished eighth. It was just an amazing, amazing day, one that I'm definitely going to remember, I can tell you.

THE MODERATOR: Any advice that you gave any of the Top 3, Top 4 guys, especially near the end of the race?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The funny thing is we actually discussed the scenario that happened, what we were going to do if it came down to this. The guys did exactly what they said they were going to do. We were very happy to get those points for Tony. We said we weren't going to take a win from anybody. Now we got Dan in second place in the championship. So that's pretty good.

THE MODERATOR: Must have some special memories about Nazareth Speedway through the years.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I do. I mean, winning the first one here was obviously a big thing for me because the odds of winning this race in your hometown, then winning the very first one in your hometown, highly against me. Now to win it here the last race, it's big. Actually back in '96, that was a big win because I was just put on probation. There were a bunch of people saying I was over the hill, all that crap. To come back and shut them up was pretty nice.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your emotions out there. You were shaking hands.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I was so happy. I'm so happy for the guys. I was a nervous wreck the last 30 laps because I felt Buddy coming on. Dario did a hell of a job holding off Buddy. I mean, he really did a good job. That's what I was nervous about. Really I felt pretty comfortable where Dan was. I just loved the way Dario protected Tony. It was a perfect team win.

Q. Michael, you've been a champion in IndyCar racing. You know what it's like to eventually get to that point. Now as a car owner, what are the feelings that you're going through as you're getting closer to a possible title this year?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Pretty special, you know. To do it in our second year would be great. We haven't done it yet, but we're getting closer. This was obviously a huge step to move closer to it. It will be big. I mean, it's the second chapter of my life, my career, starting a new career, my second career. You know, to be doing it the way we're doing it, to have fun the way we're doing it, to have four great drivers, a hundred great employees, you know, we just -- we're out there having fun. There's no acting going on, I can assure you. We're all genuinely that way. That's what makes it great.

Q. I know this is projecting, but tonight I'm sure you'll have some reflection.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I thought you were going to say we were going to have a big party (laughter).

Q. When you look back, when you have some reflection about the track, what is your feeling about the track personally and for your family?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I'm not sure it's even just the track, per se. It's just having a track here in Nazareth. I mean, this is where my dad started. You know, a legend started here with him. You know, it's sad that it may be over because Nazareth has always been known for a great racetrack. It's definitely sad, you know. But unfortunately that's life, that's the way things go.

Q. Michael, do you still get the urge?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. I don't get the urge. That's what makes me feel good that I did make the right decision.

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the winner of the Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway, the one hundredth event for the IRL, Dan Wheldon. Congratulations. Looks like had you a good car today. Tell us about your day.

DAN WHELDON: Yeah, no, I think obviously it's a fantastic team achievement. I just keep hearing a lot of grumbling, obviously they said Andretti Green are certainly dominant on the one-mile oval. Perhaps it looks like that on paper, but it's certainly not the case. I think Penske was very strong today. I think Rahal was very strong. Our guys, they did an absolutely fantastic job. To have three cars on the podium in this Indy Racing League today is an exceptional achievement. I think my guys got me out of the pits very, very quickly on the final pit stop, and that's what won me the race. Once out front, the car was very, very good.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. Dan, could you talk about that last pit stop? Was that gas-and-go sort of thing?

DAN WHELDON: No. I think it was a regular pit stop. I mean, as I expected, we took tires, as well. This is not the kind of place you can get away without taking tires. They got in as much fuel as they needed. It was very tight actually. I had trouble getting around Fernandez. I would have been a little bit more comfortable had I had a bit more room. Fortunately, I just got out in front of Tony. I think obviously when you've got two teammates behind you, not to say that they're not going to have a go, because I can guarantee you, those two are two of the quickest racing drivers not only in America, but in the world, if you give a gap, they're going to go for it. Obviously, we have a lot of respect for one another. We're going to certainly give each other room. The car at the end of the race was absolutely exceptional. A lot of credit goes to Eddie Jones because I've struggled around this track. For the boys to put up with me when I'm getting frustrated at tests here, it's quite an accomplishment. If anybody has ever seen me frustrated, I think you'll understand how I am.

Q. Dan, how much did you realize a win here would mean to your team owner?

DAN WHELDON: Have you seen the parties he's had at his house each night? That's a good indication. Obviously, I think to Michael, this is his back garden, so to speak. He's obviously known very well around here. I think he won the first around here. To win the last one for him as a team owner I knew would be something special. But to have each one of his drivers on the podium, and obviously Bryan is always very strong, I think he just must have been a little bit unlucky today. I guarantee you we can get him in victory seriously these next few races. The party is going to be good tonight, but when BH wins, it's going to be very big.

Q. Dan, there's been so much talk recently about the big battle for the points lead between Buddy and Tony. You guys kind of flew underneath the radar screen for a while, not a lot of focus on it. Did that help your team in any way prepare or get ready and put you in this position now to move into second place?

DAN WHELDON: I don't think so. I think both Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman have done an exceptional job of not getting tied into what the media are saying. I think they're both very, very good teams. But I think with as competitive as it is, you can't plan and strategize too much. You just got to do the best job you can weekend in, weekend out, particularly these last three races. There's not too much planning you can do when you've got 20 cars running side by side in a train of 10 over 200 miles an hour. Strategy kind of goes out the window. I think what we've got to do is just focus on what we've been doing all season long. Certainly the four of us always take care of one another when we're out there, so it's nice to be racing when we're together because we understand one another perhaps better than when we're with other people. Like I said, we're just going to keep striving to bring home victories for the team and see where that pans out at the end of the season. Our focus as four drivers is to win Andretti Green Racing its first title, driver's title.

Q. Was fuel ever an issue? You had plenty?

DAN WHELDON: Yeah. Not with the amount of yellow towards the end. I don't think fuel was an issue for anybody.

Q. The championship will be determined over three tracks that are pretty similar in terms of style of racing. Talk about how the handling tracks, that part of the season is over, now it's the high banks that are going to decide it.

DAN WHELDON: Well, let me tell you, when you go to these tracks, your car's got to handle, but it's handling in a different way. It's got to handle very well in the draft, which is obviously different from this track. You're never in the draft, or it's very difficult to run in the draft. You've got to be good amongst a pack of four or five cars. I think, obviously, our cars always perform reasonably well on these kinds of tracks. I think Buddy has been particularly quick the last year. So we're going to have to work hard on making sure that we can perhaps improve our car for the superspeedways. We've done a lot of these races anyway. I think the good thing is that people know how to race on these tracks, people know what they want from the cars. From not just my driving standpoint but from all the others out there, I think we've got to make sure we remain driving with the care for one another that we started the season. Because I think it does get a little crazy towards the end. You've got to keep that same focus and respect for everybody out there.

Q. Michael, did you talk to your dad after the win?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No, I haven't.

Q. Dan, usually in this league they've been having a lot of close finishes. How does did it feel to have some breathing room between you and second place?

DAN WHELDON: It was very nice. That was actually a plan of mine. They were telling me to slow down because my pace was too quick about 35 to go or 50, whichever one. But my intention was to get as much room as I possibly could so I could make a little more time in traffic. When you came up to two or three cars, it was very, very difficult. The cars were sliding around a lot. Some of the people that were struggling with their cars were a little bit unpredictable. I wanted to get as much room as I could. Just gave me a bit more time to judge where I could pass and perhaps not lose as much time.

Q. Michael, in the last two months, we've had pit road problems. These are good teams involved. Are big changes necessary?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't know. I think it comes down to more pressure, the pressure of pit stops. Obviously, you see who won the race today. We came out 1, 2, 3. I think we came in 2, 3, 4, or 5, came out 1, 2, 3. Shows you how important pit stops are. So it's pressure. Do you have an answer for it to fix it? I don't know how you can fix it. I think the speed already we're running in the pits is very slow. I don't know what to do. It's just always been I think -- I think pit road has always been one of the most dangerous places on a racetrack. I think the reason you're seeing maybe a little more action, especially it seems like as the year has gone on, the pressure is building, building, building, pit stops is when things happen.

Q. Maybe a car shouldn't leave until everybody is back over the wall.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Who is going to wave them? Who is going to tell them a car is coming? I mean, I don't think that will work.

Q. On the pit stops, in CART there were problems a few years ago. Absolutely laying rules down, disqualifying people if anything happened seemed to work. Do you think something like that could work here?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I don't think so, no. I think when the guys are doing their job, they're just trying to do their job. Part of the reason, too, is pit lanes, some of them are a little tight. But, no, I think you're seeing -- I think probably you're not seeing new problems. I think they've always been there. Ever since I've been racing, there have been problems in the pits. Yeah, all right, we had three races where we had some problems, but we also had 10 races where we had no problems. It's just the way the ball is falling. Plus the pressure. That's when guys make more mistakes.

Q. Michael, next year you're going to be one on three road courses. Looking at the car you would have today?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: How many?

Q. Three. St. Petersburg in April, Watkins Glen.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You made an announcement?

Q. It's been out. Looking at the car today, how much would you have to change on the cars for road courses?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think this formula on the road course is going to be great. You know, everybody is saying they're going to be slower, they're going to be slower. That's good because if you remember when these cars -- when we were running CART cars back in the early '90s, we had about the same horsepower we have now, that's when you had some good racing. The reason is, because if you have too much horsepower, momentum is how you're going to pass a car. When a guy makes a mistake, that guy loses momentum, the guy behind gets a run, that's how he passes him. If you have a whole lot of horsepower, make a mistake, you put your right foot down, you can recover from that. I think with the power that we have, I think it's going to make for great racing, I really do.

Q. How long do you think it will be till the community feels the loss of this place?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Probably after they read how much money the community's made from this race today. I think they're going to say, "Oh, we're not going to have that income next year, are we? What are we going to do now?"

Q. Looking at it from a pride standpoint for the community. Put a small town in Pennsylvania on the map a couple times a year.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I agree. When they're going to realize it, I don't know. Maybe come next year. People forget. When you say Nazareth, people will start remembering, "I used to remember that name. What's that for?"

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.



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