There were no tears in Victory Circle this week. Just seven days after Danica Patrick's emotional first IndyCar victory in Japan, Sunday it was series veteran Dan Wheldon celebrating at Kansas Speedway, his first win since taking the checkered flag here a year ago.
The Englishman was all smiles and a little relieved.
"It has been a little frustrating at times and to get the (No.) 10 car back to Victory Lane just shows that we could be back and we certainly mean a lot of business," Wheldon said. "It was a real strong day.
"It's kind of nice that maybe the luck changed a little bit. Certainly, last year, there were situations where I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not allowed to say too much because (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) says I sound like a spoiled brat when I complain about stuff like that."
Meanwhile, there was no magic on this time for Patrick, who last week became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. She never got into contention in the RoadRunner Turbo Indy 300 and wound up on the sideline with a broken wheel hub.
"It felt like something was wrong at some point with the left front," the disappointed Patrick said. "I don't know when it started. Definitely, the loose feeling I was having that last stint was probably the rear tire moving when I got in the corner."
It was the 14th career victory for Wheldon, a former series champion, giving him some momentum head into next month's Indianapolis 500, a race Wheldon won in 2005 and that he acknowledges remains his biggest objective each year.
"I haven't really worried about that so much this year because it's been so competitive you need to concentrate on each individual race at a time," Wheldon said. "But it's going to be an incredibly competitive Indianapolis 500. I expect both Target cars to be up front. It's certainly very, very tight out there."
This race appeared to belong to Scott Dixon, Wheldon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, who led 145 of the first 151 laps. But the New Zealander, who won the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, ran into bad luck when he made his final pit stop just seconds before Buddy Rice crashed, bringing out a caution flag that allowed all the other leaders to pit under yellow.
Wheldon, who finished second at Kansas in 2005 and 2006, had saved enough fuel to stay out longer than his teammate and, when Dixon pitted, he inherited the lead and stayed there the rest of the way. He wound up leading the last 49 laps.
"It was a fantastic team effort. Unfortunately, Scott just got caught out on the yellow," Wheldon said.
"I think it helps your confidence. You know, both Target cars were very strong this weekend. That's great for this race, but it's going to make people work harder to try to catch us for their race at Indianapolis.
Dixon restarted seventh with 27 laps remaining in the 200-lap event and managed to get all the way to third. But, with everyone running with plenty of fuel to get to the end, Dixon was unable to get close to runner-up Kanaan.
"It was pretty frustrating," said Dixon, who pounded his fists on the steering wheel before getting out of his car at the end of the race. "You have a good car that you think should win and it doesn't.
"We definitely lost the race ourselves," said Dixon, who also led the most laps the previous week in Japan and lost the race when he had to make a late pit stop. "Congrats to Dan. He was just sitting back smartly and saving a bit of fuel. It's something we need to work on strategy-wise."
"I knew it was going to be tough. We probably needed another caution for it to pack up and give us a real chance."
Kanaan, who finished about 10 car-lengths behind, said he never really had a shot at Wheldon at the end.
"I definitely didn't have anything for him," the Brazilian said. "Second place is pretty good, though, especially before Indy. We can carry the momentum into the month (of May)."
Helio Castroneves, who has yet to finish worse than fourth this season, was right behind Dixon, followed by Marco Andretti, rookie Hideki Mutoh and Ryan Briscoe.
Patrick started third, but fell back into the pack after her first pit stop and never got back into contention.
She was running fifth when she drove into the pits during the final caution. As her team tried to chance her tires, they found the right rear hub was broken and told her to shut off the engine.
"My understeer at the beginning was definitely what made me drop back," Patrick said. "But I was back up again and I could see the leaders. It was like, `We get a yellow and we're back in it.'"
Castroneves remained atop the series standings, but leads Dixon by just six points and Wheldon by nine. Kanaan is 15 behind and Patrick, who finished 19th, fell from third to fifth, 34 points behind.
Eight of the 27 drivers who started the race are making the transition from the now-defunct Champ Car World Series to the unified American open-wheel circuit. Will Power, who dominated in winning the last Champ Car race a week ago in Long Beach, finished last Sunday, crashing in only the second oval race of his career.
The highest finishing transitional driver was Justin Wilson, who wound up ninth, the first driver a lap down. Oriol Servia, the most experience of the oval drivers among the former Champ Car entries, was 11th, followed by Graham Rahal, the 19-year-old winner of the road race in St. Petersburg, Fla., last month, who was making his first start on an oval.
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