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DATE News (chronologically)
09/13/11
irl
Wheldon: Talent level far higher in IndyCar than NASCAR  
IndyCar drivers have won many NASCAR races and championships, but a NASCAR driver has never won a single IndyCar race
English-born Dan Wheldon embraced IndyCar's $5 million challenge to win the season-ending race— and, in doing so, took a jab at auto-racing's No. 1 grabber of television ratings.

If Wheldon, a non-regular on the Izod IndyCar Series, wins the Oct. 16 world championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he'll win $2.5 million for himself and $2.5 million for a fan.

But there is a catch. "You have to start very last, and you have to win the race," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard told Wheldon during Tuesday's news conference in Indianapolis.

"That's fair," replied Wheldon, who will drive a car jointly entered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport.

Wheldon, who hasn't raced in IndyCar since being the surprise winner of the Indianapolis 500 in May, admitted that trying to win from the back of the field in the 200-lap race will be daunting.

"When you look at the depth of the field in the Izod IndyCar Series right now, it's full of talent. So it's certainly going to be harder to come to the front than in recent years," Wheldon said. "When you consider the talent level of the grid, I think quite honestly, it far outweighs NASCAR."

IndyCar is desperate to gain viewership. Versus, which carries most IndyCar races, averages a 0.5 TV rating, a number about seven times lower than ESPN's typical NASCAR Sprint Cup rating, for its coverage. Bernard hopes the promotion will attract more fans to watch the season-ending IndyCar race on ABC.

Bernard admitted he hoped for three other big names to help move the TV needle. But all of those options fell off the table, forcing him to look for a Plan B in Wheldon.

Two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi would only drive for Chip Ganassi. NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne would only drive for Roger Penske. And neither Ganassi nor Penske wanted the distraction as two of their drivers (Dario Franchitti, Ganassi; Will Power, Penske) are battling for the series championship.

Bernard's other top choice, action-sports star Travis Pastrana, intended to compete until breaking his foot in the X Games in late July.

"We have the fastest, most versatile race car drivers in the world," Bernard said. "We felt these were the type of drivers that had the skills to compete." Indy Star

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