Indy 500: Panther Racing Heartbreak Gives Wheldon His Second Indianapolis Win

No NameAnalyst IMay 29, 2011

2-Time Indy 500 Winner Dan Wheldon
2-Time Indy 500 Winner Dan Wheldon

Panther Racing has now finished in second place the last four years at Indianapolis. None of them were even close to the heartbreak that was seen today.

For the second consecutive year, it looked as though the race would come down to who had the most fuel left at the end. In the last 20 laps, there were seven different drivers that held the lead at one point. After Danica Patrick got the crowd into a frenzy, it looked as though Bertrand Baguette was going to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Indy 500 history.

Baguette had to pit, giving the lead to rookie driver JR Hildebrand with just three laps remaining. Hildebrand had a comfortable lead, and as he entered turn four, it looked like he had enough fuel to finally end the runner-up curse for Panther. Unfortunately, there was one more turn he had to make it through.

Hildebrand came up on fellow rookie Charlie Kimball as he entered turn four. Instead of downshifting and finishing behind him, JR decided to go around him. When he got on the outside of Kimball, he appeared to get loose in the marbles, which sent him hard into the wall. He was able to slide across the finish line, but not before Wheldon passed him.

Hildebrand was okay, but understandably heartbroken. Almost winning the biggest race in the world is one thing, but to lose it in the last turn of the final lap is even worse. For Wheldon, it was his second Indianapolis 500 win, and the first for his car owner and former teammate Bryan Herta.

The win just adds to the legacy of Wheldon at the speedway. In nine career races here, he has two wins, two second place finishes, a third, and fourth place finish. Anyone that knows him knows that he loves the track, the race, and the history and traditions that ago along with it.

It was fitting that Wheldon won today's race. He was in that same car in 2009 and 2010 when he finished in second both years.

It was a great day for a couple of guys that started in the back of the field as well. Graham Rahal, who started 29th, finished third, and Tony Kanaan charged from 22nd to finish fourth. Scott Dixon led a race-high 73 laps and finished fifth. Oriol Servia, who started on the front row, was sixth.

When Baguette realized he was going to be short on fuel, it looked like Dario Franchitti was going to slide in and grab his third Indy 500 win. Dario led 51 laps and was running second on Lap 195. He had to pit for a splash of fuel on Lap 199 and finished in 12th.

It was a relatively good day for Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Patrick, given the debacle that the month had been for them up until today. Both drivers finished in the top ten, Marco ninth and Danica 10th. There were 23 lead changes among 10 drivers and seven cautions for 40 laps.

It wasn't a horrible day for the Ganassi boys, as they led 124 of the 200 laps, but they weren't able to close the deal in the end. For Team Penske though, the day couldn't have been much worse. Ryan Briscoe got caught up in an accident with Townsend Bell, finishing in 27th. Helio Castroneves was a non-factor as he finished in 17th, and Will Power didn't seem to have anything for this race, as he came home in 14th.

Pole sitter Alex Tagliani had a rough day as well, smacking the wall on his own midway through the race, ending his day.

All was quiet this morning as the sun came up over the Pagoda. Another Indianapolis 500 is in the books, but this one is one we will never forget. The drama was alive and well throughout the race, and even began a couple of weeks ago on Opening Day.

The Centennial Race has come and gone, but this one will be talked about for decades to come.