Wheldon Ready for Action

Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon will replace Alex Tagliani at Kentucky Speedway. (Photo: IndyCar)

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Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon will get a chance to tune-up for his run at a $5 million payday next month when he runs Sunday’s IZOD Indy Car Series Kentucky Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

Wheldon is set to take the wheel of the Sam Schmidt Motorsports No. 77 entry in Sunday’s race at the 1.5-mile speedway and is looking forward to the opportunity to compete again in the series.

“I'm really excited about this opportunity and look forward to working with everyone at Sam's team," said Wheldon, who drove for the team in last May’s thrilling Indianapolis victory. "They were a large part of our winning effort in May, and I'll do my best to get back to victory lane."

The down side to the story is that Wheldon will replace regular driver Alex Tagliani for the opportunity to compete at Kentucky. Wheldon understands the disappointment for Tagliani in the decision and is grateful for the cooperation.

"I can't thank Alex enough for letting me drive his car in Kentucky and to work with the team in preparation for Las Vegas," Wheldon said. "I'll be stepping into a fast race car that's capable of winning. As a driver, that's all you can ask for.”

Tagliani, who piloted the car to this year’s Indy 500 pole, wished his teammate well.

"I'm obviously not happy about sitting out Kentucky, but this is a very exciting opportunity," Tagliani said. "Dan and I are good friends, and I'm very jealous that he gets to run for the $5 million. But I fully support what IndyCar has done to generate fan interest and will do everything I can to help the Sam Schmidt Motorsport team run Dan in Kentucky and prepare for the Go Daddy Challenge."

It’s been a busy time for Wheldon, who has also found himself part of the testing program for the next generation Indy Car. He recently took part in a session at Indianapolis to shake down a Dallara Automobili-built chassis.

“We have to manage our expectations,” Wheldon said of the test. “I know everybody wants to see huge speeds, but it’s about doing what’s right for the car. This is our final test and it’s important that we learn enough so when the customers get their cars we feel we’ve given them something they’ll be very happy with.”

As part of the bonus program, Wheldon has a shot to win the challenge when the IndyCar Series wraps up its season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 16. As the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, Wheldon can collect $2.5 million with another $2.5 million going to a lucky fan if he can find Victory Lane at the desert oval.

Tagliani, who will be back in the No. 77 SSM entry for Vegas while Wheldon pilots a second car out of the team’s stable, did issue a warning for his teammate at the finale.

"I'm out to win the Vegas race, as well, and won't back off one bit, so Dan will be on his own when the green flag drops," Tagliani said.

As part of the challenge, Wheldon will have to start last in the field, which series officials expect to top 30 entries.

However, team owner Schmidt is confident of Wheldon’s ability and thrilled to have a chance for him to run this weekend’s event at Kentucky in anticipation of running Las Vegas for big payday.

"I am incredibly excited to have Dan Wheldon driving the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia car at Kentucky," Schmidt said. "Clearly, this is an amazing opportunity for our team and sponsors. We are putting as much energy and resources into winning the Go Daddy INDYCAR Challenge as we did for the Indy 500 with the intent of making one lucky fan an instant millionaire and capping off a great rookie season for SSM.”

Schmidt added his thanks for Tagliani understanding the decision to swap drivers.

"I also appreciate Tag's support of this program,” Schmidt said. “Being a race car driver myself, it would be extremely difficult to step out of a car I helped develop, but Alex is a true professional and team player in our pursuit to win this prize."

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Auto Club 500

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Saturday, October 19, 2013
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