Just a week after former Andretti Green team-mate Tony Kanaan reached the same milestone, Panther Racing's Dan Wheldon is preparing for his 100th career IndyCar Series start.
Fittingly, the milestone comes at Kansas Speedway, where the National Guard-backed driver is the two-time defending race winner. The former Indy Racing League and Indy 500 champion will now attempt to duplicate the series record - currently shared by himself, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and former Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon, at Watkins Glen, by winning three consecutive races at the same track.
Dating back to 2005, Wheldon has never finished outside the top two at Kansas as, in addition to victories there in 2007 and 2008, he finished as runner-up in 2005 and 2006, and has led over half (216 of 400) of the laps run at Kansas in the past two seasons. Panther has enjoyed similar success at the 1.5-mile oval, although a trip to victory lane has been elusive. Most recently, the team scored a podium finish in 2006, and twice finished runner-up with former driver Sam Hornish Jr in 2001-02.
“The Kansas race is one that I'm very confident about and, if you look back at Panther's results on the 1.5-mile ovals, they're very, very strong," Wheldon underlined, "It's going to be a very intense race as, each year, the track tends to lose a little bit of grip, so you're going to have to work hard on having a good handling race car across the seams that the track has.
"I like to run the car a little more on edge than what Panther is accustomed to, so we're working to find that balance where we are still fast, but the car is strong throughout the race. At Kansas, you want to have a car that is quick out front, and I felt we had that in the test there recently. Certainly, with the development that we have in mind, and even the experience that we have at Kansas and the experience we'll take out of Kansas, I think we'll certainly have one eye on Indianapolis as well.”
Having left the title-winning Ganassi stable, Wheldon enters the Kansas weekend seventh in the standings, and coming off a top five finish on the streets of Long Beach, remarkably his best result on a street course since a podium result at Belle Isle in 2007. His 99 starts have yielded 15 victories – putting him third in series history – and has finished in the top five in over half of those races.
“I've very much enjoyed the IndyCar Series, and I think it's certainly evolved since I first raced here in 2002 with Panther," the Briton reflected, "The competition level now is very, very intense, and I think, even with the tough economic times that we have ahead of us, the series continues to thrive. With partners like the National Guard being involved with Panther Racing, with Honda and Firestone and Dallara, I expect it to get stronger and stronger.
"I hope that I can do many more races, but I think the one thing that I've learned in those 100 races is how good that milk tastes at Indy, and I'd definitely like to taste it again.”
Wheldon kicked off the 100-race celebrations by revisiting a game more familiar to him than the American fare he has become accustomed to over the years, following a trip to the Major League Soccer match between the Kansas City Wizards and New York Red Bulls.