Indianapolis 500 Finish Marred by Leader's Accident in Final Turn

Michael Santo's picture

Despite appearing to win on the final turn of the Indianapolis 500, Dan Wheldon didn't get the "official" news that he won the race for about two hours after he crossed the finish line.

During that time, Wheldon did all the normal activities that an Indy 500 winner would, right down to drinking the milk. However, because JR Hildebrand, a 23 year old rookie who had entered the final lap leading by 4 seconds, skidded high into the wall on the final turn, there were questions that had to be answered.

Dan Wheldon drove past, seemingly claiming an improbable second Indianapolis 500 win on Sunday in his what has first race of the year. Hilderbrand slid across the finish line to take second place. However, IndyCar officials had to review video to see if Wheldon passed the wrecked machine before the caution lights went on. If he did, all was well, and that's what apparently happened.

The final lap seemed to be going the way of Hildebrand, at least through the first three turns. However, when he came into the fourth turn, Hildebrand came up on Charlie Kimball, another rookie. He could have backed off, as he had a considerable lead, but instead, he tried to move to the outside to pass. He lost control, and lost the race, slamming into the wall as a crowd of 250,000 gasped collectively.

Hildebrand expressed frustration and sadness. He said, "I'm just frustrated. It's not because we came in here with the expectation of winning and we didn't. I felt like I just made a mistake and it cost our boys. I guess that's why rookies don't win the Indianapolis 500 a whole lot and we'll be back next year, I guess."

For much of the race, defending champ Dario Franchitti and 2008 winner Scott Dixon held the lead. Late in the race, fuel came into play, with a series of late pit stops, changing things. For a time, Graham Rahal was up front. Danica Patrick, racing her last Indy 500 before she goes full-time with NASCAR in 2012, claimed the lead but had to pit for fuel with nine laps to go.

Curiously, Wheldon, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner, lost his ride at Panther Racing (ironically, replaced by Hildebrand), and couldn't find a regular gig this season. However, he managed to get a one-race ride from h Bryan Herta Autosport. One might expect better results in terms of rides for the rest of the season.

Today's race was the 100th anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500 (1911). However, as the race was suspended during WWI (1917–18) and WWII (1942–45), the 100th running of the event will not occur until 2016. Interestingly, Wheldon never led a lap until the final one. The last time that happened was when Joe Dawson won the second Indy 500 in 1912.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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