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The perfect storm: A high-banked oval crowded with the largest field of the season. Inexperienced or impatient drivers racing at more than 220 mph. Absolutely no room for error.
What was supposed to be a season-ending showdown at Las Vegas Motor Speedway became instead a script for disaster Sunday: a fiery 15-car crash that killed popular two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and left the shaken auto racing community to deal with uncomfortable questions.
The drivers knew the Las Vegas race was going to present challenges even before the season began.
IndyCar had not raced at the track since 2000, and the now-defunct Champ Car Series was last there in 2005. None had raced an IndyCar there since the track’s 2006 reconfiguration added “progressive banking” designed to increase side-by-side racing.
So there was some initial fretting when second-year IndyCar chairman Randy Bernard announced a $5 million payday to any moonlighting driver who could win the race.
Bernard had hoped to land a superstar or two from the fender-rubbing NASCAR circuit. Maybe even former Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya. But nobody bit, despite interest from NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne, X-Games star Travis Pastrana and former CART champion Alex Zanardi.
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