Dan Wheldon hasn't been in an IndyCar race since he dramatically won the Indianapolis 500 in May on the last corner, and it looked as though his next outing would be in mid-October at Las Vegas when he attempt to win from the back of the grid and claim a special $5m prize.
But now it's confirmed that he will be back sooner than expected, with a race seat confirmed at Sam Schmidt Motorsports for the Kentucky Indy 300 on October 2. He'll be taking over the #77 Bowers & Wilkins at Magnolia entry normally helmed by Alex Tagliani, who put the very same car on pole position for the start of the Indy 500 that Wheldon went on to win.
"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," said Wheldon at the announcement. "I'll be stepping into a fast race car that's capable of winning. As a driver, that's all you can ask for.
"I'm really excited about this opportunity and look forward to working with everyone at Sam's team," he added. "They were a large part of our winning effort in May, and I'll do my best to get back to Victory Lane."
Team owner San Schmidt added that he also appreciated Tagliani stepping aide for Kentucky. "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."
"I'm obviously not happy about sitting out Kentucky, but this is a very exciting opportunity," said Tagliani, who stressed that it had been his choice to hand the car over to Wheldon for Kentucky. "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."
Tagliani himself will be back in the #77 for Vegas, while Wheldon switches to a car jointly entered by Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Bryan Herta Autosport.
"I'm out to win the Vegas race, as well, and won't back off one bit," warned Tagliani. "So Dan will be on his own when the green flag drops!"
While there's no special prize to spur Wheldon on at Kentucky, it's a different story at Las Vegas where he'll have to start from the back of the grid but if he managed to win he'll pocket $5m, which will be split between Wheldon and a fan selected from a sweepstake.
Although Wheldon hasn't been racing since May, he has been getting a lot of track time as the official test driver of the new Dallara IndyCar Safety Cell chassis, which will be used by all teams from the start of next season.