Wheldon Virtually Clinches IRL Title

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Dan Wheldon kept his composure through the tense moments and left the track with a record and, unofficially, a championship.

Wheldon set an Indy car mark Sunday with his sixth victory this season and all but clinched his first IRL title, beating Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. in a tight finish to win the Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 in Chicagoland Speedway at Joliet, Ill.

"To win six races is something I'll look back on and think that was a strong season," Wheldon said.

Wheldon will win the points title simply by getting on the track at Watkins Glen in two weeks. He broke a tie with Hornish for wins in a season.

Wheldon survived a pit speed violation midway through the race, regained the lead on the 179th lap, held off a pack in the final stages and finished in 1 hour 47 minutes 49.6126 seconds -- 0.0133 seconds ahead of Castroneves. It was the eighth closest finish in IRL history, with three of the top 10 at Chicagoland.

Danica Patrick, starting from the pole, was sixth -- the seventh top-10 finish of her rookie season. She lost the lead to Tomas Scheckter on the second lap and never got it back. She jump-started coming out of a pit after the 188th lap and got knocked down two spots to fourth, and later apologized, saying that her earpiece didn't work properly.

"I thought I heard 'green,' " Patrick said.

Wheldon averaged 169.160 mph and led 88 laps. He has 570 points -- 102 more than defending series champion Tony Kanaan.

After a fiery 20th-lap collision involving three cars, Ryan Briscoe was taken by helicopter to a Chicago-area hospital where he was to spend the night because of a concussion, bruised lung, and broken right and left collarbones. Despite the injuries, he was listed in good condition.

Briscoe's car flipped over Alex Barron's and slammed into the safety barrier after the two clipped tires on the fourth turn of the 1.5-mile oval. The rear end of Briscoe's car broke away, and debris tore a hole in a fence along the barrier. Barron and Kosuke Matsuura, who also was involved, walked away unscathed.

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Fernando Alonso moved closer to becoming Formula One's youngest world champion with a conservative ride in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in which he finished second to Kimi Raikkonen.

Raikkonen overtook McLaren Mercedes teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in the final stages to win this race for the second consecutive year for his sixth victory this season.

Alonso, 24, of Spain, needs to finish in the top three of any of the three remaining races to clinch the title. The Renault driver's next opportunity comes at the Brazilian Grand Prix in two weeks. He leads Raikkonen in points, 111 to 86.

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No arrests were made in connection with an incident Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway in which driver Harry Kuenniger was taken from the track in an Irwindale Police Department patrol car, police said.

Cars driven by Kuenniger and Jesse James hooked during a Figure 8 race, prompting Kuenniger to drive his car into James' at least twice. The two fought after getting out of their cars.

James is the husband of actress Sandra Bullock.

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