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INDYFebruary 29, 2004
IRL IndyCar Series Round 1
Homestead-Miami Speedway

Wheldon Runs Third at Homestead Season Opener

Honda-powered Dan Wheldon, 2003 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, started off the 2004 Indy Racing League campaign with a strong third-place run Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading 14 laps and battling in the closing laps with eventual winner Sam Hornish Jr. and runner-up Helio Castroneves.

After starting on the seventh-row of the grid, Wheldon quickly moved up through the field, leading for the first time just past half-distance in the 300-mile event.  Wheldon stalled exiting the pits on lap 130, dropping him to 12th place.  But very quick service by his Andretti Green Racing crew at his final stop on Lap 183 returned him to the lead.Five laps later, however, lapped traffic in front of Wheldon gave Penske Racing teammates Hornish and Castroneves the opportunity they needed, as the pair "sandwiched" the Briton high and low to take over at the front. Pole qualifier Buddy Rice was the second of three Honda drivers to lead today's race, the Team Rahal driver running at the front through the first round of pit stops. But he was forced back into the pits just two laps later to replace a cut tire, falling back to 16th as a result. Rice worked his way back to lead again on Lap 108, but increasing understeer dropped him to a seventh-place finish, just ahead of fellow Honda driver Tony Kanaan.

Making his IndyCar race debut for Super Aguri Fernandez Racing, Kosuke Matsuura ran as high as seventh and was the first of three series rookies across the line at the finish. Bryan Herta was the third Honda driver to lead the race, for a total of 19 laps, before he also encountered a cut tire and lost a lap to the leaders in the ensuing pit stop.

Owner/driver Greg Ray struggled in traffic, but persevered to finish 14th, while Dario Franchitti was eliminated in a crash, but escaped injury, after contact with Matsuura on Lap 104. The 16-race IRL IndyCar Series resumes in three weeks, March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway.

IRL IndyCar Series Round 1
Homestead-Miami Speedway

1 Sam Hornish Jr. (Marlboro Team Penske)
2 Helio Castroneves (Marlboro Team Penske)
3 Dan Wheldon (Andretti Green Racing)
4 Tora Takagi (Mo Nunn Racing)
5 Tomas Scheckter (Panther Racing)
6 Darren Manning (Target Chip Ganassi Racing)
7 Buddy Rice (Team Rahal)
8 Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green Racing)
9 Scott Sharp (Kelley Racing)
10 Robbie Buhl (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing)
11 Kosuke Matsuura (Super Aguri Fernandez Racing)
13 Bryan Herta (Andretti Green Racing)
14 Greg Ray (Access Motorsports)
17 Dario Franchitti (Andretti Green Racing)
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