I cannot possibly imagine what J.R. Hildebrand is feeling right now. The rookie driver literally had the centennial Indianapolis 500 in the bag—until he made perhaps the most inexplicable mistake ever witnessed at the legendary oval.
The fact that Hildebrand had the lead at all is amazing. That he lost this race the way he did, is almost unfathomable. How did he hit the wall so close to the finish? Did he lose focus thinking about what it would feel like to see the checkered flag in a few more seconds?
"It's a helpless feeling,“ said Hildebrand, who added that he was attempting to pass fellow rookie Charlie Kimball when he hit the fourth turn wall. "I caught him in the wrong piece of track. I got up in the marbles and that was it."
Hildebrand felt horrible for his team, the fabulous but small Panther Racing, which once again made nearly all the right moves. But again Panther would come up just short. This is Panther Racing’s fourth straight second place finish at Indianapolis.
Hildebrand’s glory stealing accident is most certainly the very definition of the agony of defeat. Hildebrand who limped to the finish in his damaged car, lost the lead at the very end to Dan Wheldon, who ironically drove the last few seasons for Panther Racing and finished second at Indy for Panther in 2009 and 2010.
The more than 300,000 who attended the race were stunned by this sudden and shocking outcome. Moments before they had just been teased again by a great drive from Danica Patrick, who led for 10 laps until she like others had to make an untimely final pit stop. But what might have been Danica’s last Indy 500 was upstaged by Hildebrand’s almost unreal reversal of fortune.
I hope that there will be other opportunities soon for J.R. Hildebrand to make a mark on racing history because this is the kind of loss that could linger for a lifetime. He more than anyone else does not want this ending to define his racing legacy.