Wheldon Rolls for Big Money in Vegas
By: John Singler on October 11, 2011 | 5:16 P.M. EST
Indy 500 winner Wheldon has his sights set on a $5 million bonus that would come with a victory this weekend in Las Vegas. (Photo: Getty Images)
Dan Wheldon has made just two starts in the IZOD IndyCar Series this year. The Indianapolis 500 winner is hoping his third race brings a memorable end to the 2011 season … eyeing a potential payout of millions of dollars this weekend in Las Vegas.
Wheldon, one of 34 drivers entered in Sunday’s IndyCar World Championship Presented by Honda, is the central focus of a $5 million bonus program which is the brainchild of IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard.
If Wheldon wins Sunday’s season finale, he’ll split the money with one lucky fan chosen from among those who have registered to participate in the promotion.
“I was extremely honored and privileged to be asked to do this,” Wheldon said of the unique bonus program, which originally was to pay the full $5 million amount to any non-IndyCar regular who won the season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
That initiative was abandoned last month when just one driver, Scott Speed, signed up. Bernard later tweaked the promotion – opening it up to fans and at the same time, increasing exposure for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“Myself and a fan have the chance to win two-and-a-half million dollars each and I genuinely think we have a shot,” Wheldon said. “They’ll make me start from the back of the field, which is good because I think it shows that (Bernard) has confidence in me that we can do this.”
Wheldon will be at somewhat of a competitive disadvantage, racing against drivers whose skills have been sharpened by the rigors of the full-season schedule. But the underdog role is one he relishes.
“I’m going to be in the same situation I was in at the Indianapolis 500,” said Wheldon, who’ll drive the car normally piloted by Alex Tagliani. “This is going to be a combined effort of Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport. During the month of May, we were able to produce very fast cars that worked well in the race.”
In this year’s Indy 500, Wheldon overtook the crippled car of J.R. Hildebrand just a few hundred yards from the finish to claim his second victory at The Brickyard. Hildebrand, the race leader who was headed for what seemed to be a monumental upset, made contact with the outside wall exiting the final turn of the race while attempting to pass lapped traffic.
Wheldon says there’ll be little margin for error in Sunday’s race in order for him and that one lucky fan to collect the millions that await them.
“The Las Vegas track bodes well for side-by-side racing,” he said of the 1.5-mile desert oval. “Typically, I go well on these types of tracks. We’re going to have to call a good race strategy, obviously. It will be hard, but I do think it’s possible. It’s a long race and everything will have to go right.”
According to Wheldon, the Las Vegas bonus program is just a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things for the open-wheel series.
“With the momentum the IndyCar series has right now … new cars, multiple engine manufacturers … I think there are very good things to come,” Wheldon said. “Who knows what Randy’s next vision is going to be?”