Dan Wheldon's top 10 career moments (cont.)
6. Winning the 24 Hours of Daytona (2006). Following his 2005 champonship season, Wheldon departed Andretti-Green Racing and began racing for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. But Wheldon's debut with his new team did not occur in an IndyCar race. Instead, he began the 2006 racing season by joining Scott Dixon and Casey Mears in one of Ganassi's two entries in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race. It actually was supposed to the team's second-tier entry -- behind the more established trio of Scott Pruett, Luis Diaz and Max Papis -- but Wheldon and his teammates powered to a one-lap victory. "There are some great names who have won this race," Wheldon said afterward. "To be part of that is very, very special"
7. Earning IndyCar rookie of the year (2003). Wheldon had made only two IndyCar starts, in 2002, when he was given the opportunity to replace the retiring Michael Andretti as one of the drivers at Andretti-Green Racing. He got off to a miserable start, crashing or spinning in three of his first six races. After finishing next-to-last at Michigan in July, Wheldon was 17th in the point standings with only six races remaining. But things suddenly began to click for Wheldon down the stretch, as the finished in the top 10 of all six of those races, capped by a season-best third-place run in the finale. In the process, Wheldon rose to 11th in the point standings and captured rookie of the year honors.
8. Beating Helio Castroneves by 0.0147 seconds (2006). Wheldon made his debut with Ganassi Racing one to remember, edging out Castroneves in the 2006 season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway in one of the closest finishes in IndyCar history. The two drivers were side-by-side throughout the final half-lap, running mere inches apart at more than 210 mph. Afterward, Castroneves said, "We were very close many times. There were a couple of times I don't think a hair could [have fit] between his wheel and my wheel. But I don't think we ever touched. I tell you, I respect him a lot after this race. Not that I didn't respect before, but he definitely drove like a champion."
9. Winning the U.S. F2000 championship (1999). A native of England, Wheldon moved to the United States in 1999 at the age of 20 in an effort to improve his chances of having a career in open-wheel racing. By the end of the year he had established himself as one of the sport's top young drivers. Even though he had little experience in oval racing, Wheldon won six times and became the first European to capture the championship in the lower-level U.S. F2000 series. "I've won a lot of races, but I've never won a championship in my life," Wheldon said at the time. "Winning this one is very special."
10. Spending his 30th birthday in Victory Lane (2008). Wheldon's 15th career IndyCar victory occurred in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 22, 2008, which also happened to be the date of his 30th birthday. Wheldon coaxed 60 extra laps out of set of old tires after most of the other drivers pitted under caution and changed tires. The gamble paid off, as Wheldon never relinquished the lead. "What a great birthday present," he said afterward.
Wheldon donated his winner's check, $95,000, to the Iowa Red Cross to help the victims of a series of tornadoes and floods that had struck the area in the weeks leading up to the race. When asked about the generosity of the donation, Wheldon replied, "I just hope it helps put a smile on their faces."
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