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Drivers react to DW's Vegas challenge

by
Bruce Martin
| Sep 26, 2011

Dan Wheldon has a chance to “Double Down” at Las Vegas in the IZOD IndyCar World Championships and his fellow competitors would like to get in on the act. Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, can win the $5 million GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge if he is victorious in the October 16 IndyCar season-finale from the last starting position. If Wheldon wins he will split the pot with a lucky fan who will collect $2.5 million of the winner’s prize.

“I think everyone wants to be a fan and have a chance to win $2.5 million,” said Danica Patrick, the “GoDaddy Girl” in the IZOD IndyCar Series and driver of the No. 7 car at Andretti Autosport. “I think it’s cool that someone that has a chance to win is doing it. It’s going to make it exciting and get more people to be watching. It’s a heck of a lot of money for sure for a challenge that Dan has a good chance of winning and that does make it more exciting to watch. All of those high stakes things make it interesting.”

Patrick likes Wheldon’s odds even though the 2005 and 2011 Indy 500 winner and 2005 series champion will have to start last in the field at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I totally agree, that’s why it’s going to perhaps be even more watched because there is a good chance he is going to win $2.5 million and so will somebody in the stands,” Patrick said. “I think it was a good way to change it up from inviting five other drivers. I think it will still be very interesting.

“I wonder how Dan is going to feel before it because there is a lot of money on the line for one very specific goal. It’s one thing to go to Indy with a team you just started with and haven’t driven the season and want to do well. The only thing that matters is a win. It’s not finishing third place, the only thing that matters is a win.”

Patrick believes the challenge is a perfect example of how GoDaddy and the IZOD IndyCar Series can promote the sport in a big way.

“That is why they have chosen to put their name to it,” Patrick said. “It’s such an interesting challenge, very high money. It’s a sexy challenge.”

INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard along with GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons introduced the $5 million challenge on September 13. And while many of the IZOD IndyCar Series teams were on their way to Japan for last Sunday’s Indy Japan: The Final at Twin Ring Motegi, it didn’t take long for the word to spread about “Dan’s Double Down.”

Although the regular IndyCar contingent of drivers wishes they had a shot at winning the bonus they realize it could be big news for one lucky fan if they are able to collect $2.5 million from a Wheldon win.

“It’s not all about Dan Wheldon because a fan can win $2.5 million,” said Tony Kanaan, who was Wheldon’s teammate at what is now Andretti Autosport from 2003-2005. “Hopefully, it will attract more people for sure. I hope it creates more publicity. We are trying to make anything to achieve the goal of bringing more people.”

Dario Franchitti of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing is another former Wheldon teammate when the two were driving for team owner Michael Andretti from 2003-2005. Franchitti has his own reasons for winning the Las Vegas race because he is attempting to win his fourth IZOD IndyCar Series championship and is locked in a fierce battle with Team Penske’s Will Power.

“I’ve got my own focus for that weekend but it could be a very potentially productive year for old DW,” Franchitti said. “That’s cool. It’s definitely going to give him some motivation and a lot of the fans will be cheering for him. It has its plusses and minuses. It will be good to have Dan back and it would be nice if some of that prize money went to the regular drivers in the series. For one of the fans, that’s the really cool part about it. If a fan is able to pocket $2.5 million how cool that would be. That is the really cool part about it. We’ll see if that happens.”

Current Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay is happy to see Wheldon back in the field because of what he means for the sport.

“I think it’s great that Wheldon is running Vegas,” Hunter-Reay said. “He is a great ambassador for our sport. He is definitely a very deserving Indy 500 champion. On black-and-white I don’t understand how he is eligible because he has double the starts I do but it’s not for me to understand. Racing at Vegas is going to be a crapshoot. It will come down to the cars that are fast right out of the box. It’s going to be wild. It will be Texas-like.”

Scott Dixon of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing is hoping to win the A.J. Foyt Trophy as the best oval track driver in the series in 2011 with a strong finish at Las Vegas. The addition of Wheldon to the field will make that goal a little more difficult but Dixon believes he will have no fear racing against Wheldon.

“I can win the A.J. Foyt Trophy and that’s worth something,” Dixon said. “I don’t know the correct way to answer that. Dan is a great friend and he’s great at 1.5-mile tracks. It’s good that we are racing against somebody that understands IndyCar racing like Dan. If we had gotten the guy that does all of the tricks (Travis Pastrana) or someone like that they have good followings but this isn’t a club race or SCCA race; it’s high-speed racing and when things go wrong it can go drastically wrong. I respect that they picked somebody like Dan. It’s cool to have the Indy 500 champion to come back.

“We should have money races. That’s good. I know it’s the gimmick part of it and I respect them for thinking outside the box. At Indy you can earn $3 million if you win everything for the month.”

Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves loves the spotlight but realizes he will have to share with another quality driver at Las Vegas.

“It’s about attracting more people,” said Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 winner. “I think the IndyCar Series should do that at more than just one race. But putting Wheldon there to have a shot to win the $5 million … he has a chance to win it. But for a fan to have a chance to win $2.5 million should hook fans into the race. That’s a good way to call attention to our series. For the same side of all of us Dan knows what you we are doing. It’s a way of the series trying to find ways to call attention to our sport.”

Team Penske President Tim Cindric has been known to gamble on the race track with fuel strategies that have allowed his drivers to get an edge and make it to victory lane so he fully understands playing the odds. That is why he thinks the odds are pretty good that Wheldon can contend for the bonus.

“It’s a good program for Dan. He is a legitimate contender,” Cindric said. “I think the odds are certainly higher with him in the race than maybe some of the original candidates. Hopefully there is a time when the race can stand on its own and we don’t have to have that kind of program and the money can be distributed among the contestants.”

Getting people to talk about “Dan’s Double Down” in the “GoDaddy $5 Million IndyCar Challenge” is just what Bernard had in mind when he developed the concept. But it’s also a way to reward a loyal fan of the sport.

“That is what we are hoping and get one more lucky fan to be a loyal IndyCar fan,” Bernard said. “This is a great way to do it. Our goal with that challenge and promotion was to bring people from outside of our world into our sport. The first plan didn’t work so we stepped back and re-evaluated and came up with another plan. I think this one allows us the opportunity to still reach the mainstream. You give someone an underdog, start him last and if he is able to do it it will be an exciting race.”

Fans can enter through the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile App (text INDYCAR to 3406 or go to Android Market to download) or www.IndyCarWorldChampionships.com for a chance at the bonus. In addition to the chance for $2.5 million, one fan will be selected for a trip of a lifetime to the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships, which includes airfare, hotel, VIP access at the Kickoff Party and racetrack and more totaling more than $10,000.

Verizon, the Official Wireless Service Provider for INDYCAR, will create exclusive behind-the-scenes content documenting Wheldon’s quest for the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge through its INDYCAR Mobile app, which allows users to access exclusive content, including a camera in Race Control during events, along with videos, real-time Timing & Scoring and other content. 

The two-time Indy 500 winner and 2005 series champion has 16 victories and has led a total of 2,865 laps in his 132

IZOD IndyCar Series starts. Wheldon will return to the cockpit of his high-speed IndyCar in the same joint effort with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian. The entry will be sponsored by Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia, William Rast, Curb and Big Machine Records.

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