IndyCar Series: Bombardier Learjet 500
Topics: SunTrust Indy Challenge
June 10, 2006
FORT WORTH, TEXAS
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Scott.
We're joined now by Dan Wheldon, finishing third tonight in the 10 car.
Dan, I know you were making a run at the end. I think unofficially you may have had the fastest lap on the last lap. You pitted with 15 to go. Talk about what was going on.
DAN WHELDON: Well, obviously it's incredibly tight in the IndyCar Series right now. Obviously, at Texas you always seem to have very close finishes. We had a fantastic car. I think Target Chip Ganassi Racing put together a package for us with the Honda motor that was working very, very well. But we made a mistake in the pits. It's one of those things when you're racing Marlboro Team Penske that you can't afford to do.
Obviously, the person that dropped the wheel, it's just one of those things. He's trying his best, but unfortunately we did in those circumstances gift a win to Marlboro Team Penske. It's tough because we could have had a very good day points-wise. It turns out we gave Helio 10.
THE MODERATOR: Scott was talking about the pace of the race, very few cautions. Unofficially the third fastest race in IndyCar history, 185 miles per hour. Green flag racing out there tonight.
DAN WHELDON: I think the respect a lot of the drivers show one another, with the way the races seem to pan out, Firestone put together a good tire. I do think it's harder than it has been in the past. Because of that, the car is more difficult to get a handle on. It isn't so easy flat out, even when you're side by side. Actually, even on your own. Because of that, it spaces the race out. But at the same time, because it spaces out, you can still somewhat run in line. Because of that, you get a fast pace with not many accidents.
Just very frustrated. I led a lot of laps at Indy and didn't win when I think we had a very good car. Watkins Glen, I'm not sure we had a fantastic car, but we put ourselves in a position to win, lost a drive shaft. Now something silly like this. It's just tough right now.
THE MODERATOR: Four top 5's now for you. Is that just an indication that you are that close?
DAN WHELDON: Well, 'that close' isn't good enough. Four top 5's doesn't really mean anything when the person that's leading the championship is beating you. You've got to beat that person. We had a team meeting before. We understood the fact. I said to the team that I wanted to lead early on, dominate the race because that's what we need to do to overcome the points deficit. We did this most of the day, then screwed up at the end.
THE MODERATOR: Questions
Q. Could you walk us through that pit stop. Some of us didn't see all of it.
DAN WHELDON: I didn't see it. I mean, you know, it's tough. The poor guy that is putting that wheel on, I mean, it's not his fault. He's just trying as hard as he can. It's one of those things that happens. It's very competitive.
I think everybody in this room makes mistakes in their job. It's part of it. I mean, I don't know anybody in any job that doesn't make a mistake. Unfortunately, his seems like it cost us a lot, which it did. But it's part of the whole deal.
I'm not sure exactly what happened. I can't see. Obviously, I engaged first pretty quickly because I knew it was going to be a short stop. I was sitting and waiting and waiting and waiting. Because of that I think we lost about three or four seconds. That lost me track position.
Q. At one point in the race, you and Scott, the Penske cars, had the field covered by 13 seconds. What has gotten you into the position where you have the field covered that well?
DAN WHELDON: I think both teams have been working very hard, particularly last year. I was in a very fortunate position of having Honda power, which was dominant. I credit Honda with the job that they continue to do, that they're giving us an engine where we're actually going quicker than what we have done in the past at some of these tracks. But it's still able to run a lot of miles. I think we're doing about a thousand miles on an engine now. I think that's credit to them.
In the last couple of years, I think Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Marlboro Team Penske have had a very big horsepower deficit. They've had to work very hard on mechanical grip and other things that I really can't tell you to make the cars fast or to make up for that deficit. I think you can see that now.
When you look at the two teams' history, they speak for themselves. They've been very, very dominant in IndyCar racing when they've had the right package. It doesn't surprise me.
Q. I noticed during most of the race when you were leading, when you come out of two, you stayed very low, much lower than anybody else. Coming out of four as well. Was your car handling that well that you could stay so low?
DAN WHELDON: I think so. That's what makes it even more difficult to swallow. I think Andy Brown and the engineering staff at the team do a very, very good job. We approach it somewhat different to the Penske team. We do focus a lot on the race.
It kills me, but we've had very, very good race cars. At Homestead we had a very good race car. Motegi, we had a good race car. Indianapolis, we had a good race car. Here, we had a good race car. We do have good race cars, but we're not capitalizing on them, which we did last year.
It's important in this day and age to capitalize on them because, you know, just ask Michael Schumacher a couple years ago, he couldn't win for the life of him, and he couldn't stop winning before. You have to every win you get make every win you get happen, but we just didn't quite do that today.
Q. We had a stretch of races in a row. Do you think the week off is going to help you?
DAN WHELDON: No, I wish it was next week now. I think the way that they've got the schedule, it makes it fun, it makes it tough. Week in, week out, you've got to perform well. When you have a bad race, you want to get in the car as soon as possible. I'm going to be in the car Tuesday at Kansas. It would nice to be racing tomorrow Richmond, I would say.
Q. With the next races coming up, do you have any races you're looking forward to? Where are you going to make up ground on your rivals?
DAN WHELDON: I think by just not screwing up every time we're leading. I hate to be that harsh, but I think it's true.
I think this next batch of races will be very strong for us. I think Richmond we'll be very good at. I think Kansas we'll be very good at. I think the next four or five we'll certainly be strong, Nashville, Milwaukee.
Like I say, when you're up against a team like Penske, it felt at the beginning of the race like I was kind of fighting them on my own. You have to make sure you're taking the points away. Now, with the mistakes we've made, we've got to make sure we do that, because not every weekend will we have the best car.
Q. How does a mistake like today in the pits affect team chemistry in the coming weeks?
DAN WHELDON: You can't expect anybody to be perfect. The guy's done a fantastic job for me all year. Personally, I would never hold that against anybody. I've been in this business long enough to know that you win as a team, you lose as a team. For me personally, I'm very much driven by wins. Just to give so many away this year is disappointing. That's part of the business.
I definitely feel the next one I win, I'd like to think I'll be able to string a few together because we've put ourselves in so many good positions, but just not quite capitalized.
Last year it went for me. It's not going for me this year. It makes me more determined to do it again. If I race next week, I'm on two to Hornish, he's open pole, I'll try to get him the first corner instead of turn three like I did this race.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Dan.
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