Indy 500: Danica Patrick and the Five Biggest Surprises of the Centennial Race

No NameAnalyst IMay 30, 2011

Indy 500: Danica Patrick and the Five Biggest Surprises of the Centennial Race

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    The 2011 Indianapolis 500 is in the books and my head is about ready to explode. This year provided some of the best racing, lead changes and heartbreak we have ever seen in the race's 100 year history.

    After watching the re-air of the race late last night, the opening mentions a famous saying. They said "In this race, you're either first, or forgotten". After thinking about that quote, it couldn't be further from the truth than it is today. The win was great for Wheldon of course, but we will never forget the agony and crushing blow to the gut that JR Hildebrand and Panther Racing still feel this morning.

    There were some interesting strategies that played out yesterday, and some surprising drivers at the front of the field in the end. There were also some drivers that we normally see up front that were nowhere to be found.

    Taking a look now, at the five biggest surprises in the 95th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The Hildebrand Story

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    While the focus is almost always on the winner, especially when talking about the Indy 500, another driver has been getting a lot of attention. For good reason too, as the rookie Hildebrand was just a few hundred yards from winning the biggest race in the world.

    You really have to feel for him, and especially the Panther Racing team, who have now finished in second place here the last four years in a row.

Danica and Marco Giving Andretti Two Top Tens

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    The entire month of May has been brutal to this team. From Conway missing the race to Hunter-Reay getting a ride bought for him and Marco and Danica barely making the field.

    Even John Andretti showed a little bit of fire when asked if he was going to give up his seat. Both Marco and Danica salvaged a little bit of the month though with some really good runs in the race.

    Both of them worked their way towards the front, and finished ninth and tenth respectively.

Penske Struggles at Indianapolis

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    I'm not sure how many times we have heard those words together.

    At a speedway dominated by this team over the years, they looked like rookies this year. There were mistakes made on pit road (Power losing a tire) and mistakes on the track (Helio running over debris).

    While Power and Helio never were able to sniff the front of the field, Ryan Briscoe had a solid run going before he got swept up in the Townsend Tornado. It was another rough race here for Briscoe, getting his third DNF in the last four races here.

    Power finished 14th, Helio 17th and Briscoe 27th in a forgettable race for Team Penske.

Tides Turn for Chip Ganassi

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    With Penske struggling, it looked like it was Ganassi's race to lose.

    Both Dario and Dixon looked like they had the car to beat early in the race. They combined to lead 124 of the 200 laps, but neither of them were close to battling for the lead at the end.

    Dario had to pit for fuel and ended up finishing in 12th, while Dixon was conserving fuel late and was passed by a few cars on his way to a fifth place finish. They didn't exactly struggle like Penske, but they surely didn't look like the Ganassi team that we know.

Rahal and Kanaan on a Mission

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    I almost don't really want to include this one in the list, because I saw it coming (you should have too if you read my pre-race predictions).

    Graham Rahal started in 29th and finished in third, while Tony Kanaan started in 22nd and finished in fourth. Combined, that is 44 positions they moved up in the race.

    Rahal had the lead late in the race and it looked like he might pull off the story book ending, winning the race 25 years after his father did. Like I said before, Rahal had one of the fastest cars all month, just had bad luck with the engine problem during qualifying.

    As for TK, he seems to do this every race, so it is almost expected.