Wheldon In Championship Form
March 27, 2006 | 10:11 A.M. EST
Despite having won the 2005 IRL IndyCar championship, Wheldon hasn't always appeared to be deserving of his crown. While he has raced to 10 career victories, including six during last year’s title run with Andretti-Green Racing, the Englishman has always appeared to have a chip on his shoulder – not what you would expect from a championship-caliber driver.
For an example of Wheldon's "chippy" attitude, look no further than his "feud" with Danica Patrick throughout last season. Both the media and fans portrayed Wheldon, who was running in his third full season of competition, as bitter during his Danica bashing (remember the "Danica Who" t-shirts?) because he did not receive the media attention like Patrick.
But after just one race with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Wheldon has rid himself of whatever negative stigma surrounds him and become the figure that his team, his series, and even he expects.
It wasn’t the last lap pass on Helio Castroneves, which produced the ninth closest finish in IRL history (0.0199 of a second), that propelled him to this new level.
It was his post-race comments and demeanor in response to the tragic accident which claimed Paul Dana’s life earlier in the day.
While thrilled by the outcome of the first race with his new team, he was able to show class by telling his crew members over the radio that he would rather remember his fallen competitor than celebrate in victory lane.
"Well, it was a win obviously under very difficult circumstances," Wheldon said. "I think certainly my thoughts and prayers and everybody here, their thoughts are with the Dana family and everybody at Rahal Letterman Racing. It's very difficult to race under circumstances like this. I think everybody in the community and the fans that came out to Homestead-Miami Speedway today should be commended for the effect that they have on the drivers to pull through under very difficult circumstances."
Even with the entire country as a television audience, Wheldon displayed the camaraderie he shared with Dana rather than try to steal the spotlight by celebrating one of most dramatic finishes in series’ history.
"This was a very sad day. I think, hopefully, we put on a good race, which I think we did. The IndyCar Series never fails to do that. It is certainly a very entertaining series and certainly one of the most competitive series in the world. Just a very, very sad day."
Once a driver steps away from the spotlight and fans forget how many victories and championships they've won, it's how they portrayed themselves during the hardest of times that will forever be etched into the memories of those who follow the sport.
Sunday will be remembered as the day that Dan Wheldon became a true champion.