How quickly sports can turn a competitor’s day from pure ecstasy to absolute agony—and of course, the same 180-degree change can result in another’s day going from agony to ecstasy.
Such was the case for JR Hildebrand and Dan Wheldon at Sunday’s 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Leading the race in his first-ever Indy 500 on the final turn of the final lap, Hildebrand crashed into the wall with seconds to go, allowing Wheldon to come from behind and steal the victory. It was Wheldon’s second career Indy 500 win, the first having come in 2005.
Ironically, this was Wheldon’s first race of the season after no one signed him to their team prior to the season. He was driving on Sunday in a one-race deal for Bryan Herta Autosport.
Hildebrand skidded across the finish line second.
“I knew we were really tight on the fuel coming to the end,” Hildebrand told ABC following the race. “I had the spotters in my ear telling me the guys were coming at us really hard. I was hanging on a bit.
“I went to the high side because I didn’t want to slow down too much [as he passed Charlie Kimball, who was a lap down, on the final turn], I got up in the marbles and that was it.
“I didn’t come here expecting to have a chance to win the Indy 500 but we did, and that is why it is frustrating.”
Graham Rahal, the son of legendary Indy racer Bobby Rahal, finished third on the day, while Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia rounded out the top five.
Danica Patrick led 10 laps on the day—including with just 12 laps to go before nearly running out of fuel and pitting—and finished 10th.