Dan Wheldon won his second Indianapolis 500 in May, and took the IndyCar series championship back in 2005. Since 2005, he’s gone from Target Chip Ganassi Racing to Panther Racing to the unemployment line, an odd place for a driver who never finished outside of the top ten in series points (top five with well-funded teams). Even after winning this year’s Indy 500, Wheldon couldn’t put a deal together to run additional races for the 2011 season, so he’s transitioned into a new role as commentator for Versus television. He’s good at it, but he’s still got too much talent to call races from a booth.
At Iowa, during an interview with Dario Franchitti, Wheldon commented, “This is my job now.” Without missing a beat, Franchitti countered, “No it isn’t. You know what your job is,” nodding at the open cockpit of an Indy Car.
Wheldon will soon be back on the job, as he’s been named by the IndyCar series as the official development driver for the new Dallara chassis. That means he’ll get seat time in the new platform, presumably with different engines and aero packages, before any other team or driver. Was this IndyCar throwing Wheldon a lifeline to land another seat in the series? Possibly, but the move makes good sense for both parties. Wheldon is more than qualified as a development driver, and he’s high-profile enough that the IndyCar series can use him in marketing efforts for the upcoming changes. Call it a win-win, and bank on this: Wheldon will be back, probably with a well-funded team, in 2012.