Dan Wheldon Looks To Complete Hat Trick in Kansas

Richard DeveauCorrespondent IApril 24, 2009

LONG BEACH, CA - APRIL 19:  Dan Wheldon drives the #4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara Honda  during the IRL IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19, 2009 on the streets of Long Beach, California.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

After racing on the bumpy city streets, the IndyCar Series returns to the speedier ovals this weekend at the Kansas Speedway.

Dan Wheldon, driver of the No. 4 National Guard Dallara for Panther Racing, will look to win his third consecutive race at Kansas; but this time, it will be tougher, not being part of the "big three" anymore.

For those of you unfamiliar with the "big three," they are IndyCar's three most dominating teams: Penske Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and Andretti Green Racing.

Wheldon took his two Kansas victories (2007 & 2008) with Ganassi, also finishing second twice in the race with Andretti Green (2005 & 2006). But he believes Panther Racing can carry him to victory once again.

"Obviously, I like Kansas City and I'm very confident about this weekend," Wheldon said. "Panther has had a lot success on the mile-and-a-halfs and we had a good test there last week so I'm ready to go."

With 15 career victories, 13 of those came on ovals for Wheldon.

"I'd never seen an oval, other than on television, when I came here 10 years ago but I really took a liking to racing on them," Wheldon said, who will be making his 100th career start this weekend.

"Kansas being our first oval race of the season and leading us into Indy is fine by me. I'd like to have some momentum going to my favorite place on the circuit next month," he went on.

Wheldon could look good at Indy also, winning the big race in 2005.

"Our National Guard team has done a great job in the pits and calling the races but I thought we were pretty competitive all weekend," he said. "It was good to score points heading into Kansas. We've got six ovals in a row and I think we're going to get stronger and stronger."

Even though he is currently second in IndyCar Series points, Will Power will unfortunately not be racing this weekend in Kansas.

The Australian was driving the No. 3 for Penske Racing, until Helio Castroneves was declared not guilty in tax evasion charges. Castroneves is now returning, leaving Power with no ride.

Castroneves did race in the No. 3 last week in Long Beach, while Power ran a third Penske entry for the first time since 1996, driving the No. 12 sponsored by Verizon Wireless.

Power will be back in the No. 12 in a month from now, at the prestigious Indianapolis 500. Roger Penske says he is looking to run Power in more races afterwards.

"I talked to Will and told him he's done a great job and we'll have a good car for him at Indianapolis," Roger Penske said Wednesday afternoon. "What I'd like to do is go to Indy and then try to keep it going with him so we'll see how it plays out.

"He could have been done when Helio came back, according to our contract, but that's not the way we treat people. He's a great kid and a very talented driver."

Power proved he should have a full-time ride last week in Long Beach, being quickest in Penske's No. 3 car. On Saturday, he stepped aside for Castroneves and moved to the No. 12 car, grabbing the pole with it.

Power led 16 laps in the race and finished second, giving a great performance to a new car and a pit crew who were only used to Grand-Am cars.

"It's going to be the first race I've missed in nine years," Power said. "It's going to be different just watching but I know I'll have a great car at Indy and I have to thank Roger for this opportunity."

The first two races this year, both street courses, saw some new faces running up front.

Justin Wilson is familiar with the position, but the team he drives for, Dale Coyne Racing, isn't. The team seemed to be on their way to victory in the season opener at St. Pete, until getting passed by Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay to finish third.

Speaking of Hunter-Reay, he was able to bring the Vision Racing team to a second place finish, something the team has heavily struggled to do over the years.

But this weekend, it is expected these teams will once again find their way in the middle of the pack. Allow me to explain.

On road/street courses, it takes driver talent and a good engineer to find success. But when it comes to ovals, success relies more on aero development. For aero development, it takes big bucks.

And who has the big bucks? The aforementioned "big three". The "big three" has dominated the ovals over the years and that is not expected to change. Last year, not once has a smaller team beaten the "big three" on ovals.

As I always do, I will now make my predictions for this weekend's race at the Kansas Speedway.

As I close my eyes and use my psychic powers, I see Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, on top of the podium.

The defending IndyCar Series champion definitely has no problems winning on ovals, with five of his six wins last year on them, including the Indianapolis 500.

Practice at Kansas starts Saturday at 10 a.m. ET, with qualifying later in the day. The race is set for Sunday at 4 p.m. ET, with the Firestone Indy Lights race at Noon ET.

So enjoy the race, and I'll be back in a month, previewing the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500.