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Sunday, April 29, 2007
After two runner-up races, Wheldon wins at Kansas

Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Dan Wheldon has seen too many close finishes at Kansas Speedway -- from just behind the winner.

But for one of them, he might be a two-time defending IndyCar Series champion.

Wheldon is no longer 0-for-Kansas, though. After finishing second in 2005 and 2006, both times by less than a second, he made Sunday's race a rare yawner.

Wheldon was 10 seconds ahead of Dario Franchitti late in the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 and won under caution when Scott Sharp crashed with two laps to go.

"It was a very different race for Kansas," Wheldon said. "Kansas is normally a producer of close finishes. I have to say I much prefer the much wider margins than the shortest, because I lost the shortest."

It was Wheldon's second victory in four races this year, along with the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the 13th of his career. The win gave him a shot of momentum for the race that matters most to him -- the Indianapolis 500.

"We're ready to go for the big one now," said Wheldon, who won at Indy in 2005 on his way to the season points title.

Milka Duno, whose debut Sunday made the race the first North American open-wheel series event with three women in the field, stayed out of trouble all day and finished 14th. Sarah Fisher was 12th.

Wheldon led 111 laps in each of his previous two races in Kansas City, but lost by 0.012 seconds to Tony Kanaan in 2005 and 0.0793 seconds to Sam Hornish Jr. last year.

The 2006 defeat proved especially costly, when Wheldon and Hornish tied in points but Hornish was awarded the season title because he had more wins.

This time, Wheldon led 177 of 200 laps on the 1.5 mile tri-oval -- and was ahead when it counted most.

"As an Indy car driver, you want to win at all the venues you race at," he said. "We came up short a couple of times, and it's good to have this one in the books."

Dario Franchitti was second, followed by Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tomas Scheckter, Sam Hornish Jr., Danica Patrick, Vitor Meira, A.J. Foyt IV and Jeff Simmons.

Only five cars finished on the lead lap, and there were only three leaders in Sunday's race -- a record low in the track's seven-year history. Dixon led 16 laps and Kanaan led seven.

The previous low was last year, when only four drivers led laps.

An untimely penalty on Dixon, Wheldon's teammate at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, kept Sunday's race from being closer.

Dixon, who took the lead in the day's last round of pit stops, was hit with a pass-through penalty in the 165th lap for pitting out of turn four in the 157th lap.

Dixon, whose crew said he had no choice but to pit then because he ran out of fuel, dropped to fifth after the penalty and was only able to regain one spot. Dixon moved up to second in the standings, but Wheldon widened the margin between first and second place from three points to 27 points.

Kanaan, who started on the pole and was coming off a win last week in Japan, was taken out of contention Sunday by a collision on pit road -- with his own Andretti Green Racing teammate.

In the 49th lap, Kanaan was pulling into his pit stall when Patrick, whose stall was just behind his, suddenly pulled out. Her car struck Kanaan's in the left front, damaging his suspension.

Kanaan, who fell from second to fifth in the points standings, left without commenting on the accident. But Patrick said she was cleared to take off by spotter Kim Green and crew chief Dave Popielarz.

"I listened to them, and they said, 'Go,'" she said. "Obviously, T.K. was there. I feel bad because Tony had a really fast car, but it cost both of us a chance to win a race for AGR."

Kanaan, who had been running second, eventually got back on the track but finished 15th, eight laps down. Patrick was delayed getting out of the pits by the accident but came back for her best finish of the year.

Hornish started second on Sunday, developed handling problems early and fell into the middle of the pack. He was a lap down and in 13th place after 38 laps before recovering to finish sixth.

"We had some good pit stops, and the guys hung in there for me today to improve the car and keep me calm," Hornish said. "With all things considered, a sixth-place finish is probably as good as we could have asked for, and I'm really happy that we were able to bring the car home safely."