Bad Memorial Day Weekend in Indianapolis and Charlotte for National Guard Cars

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIMay 30, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 29:  J.R. Hildebrand driver of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing finishes second after crashing during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

When it looked like an armed forces car was headed for victory lane at Indianapolis, the race changed in one turn.

J.R. Hildebrand all but had the checkered flag in sight, but a rookie mistake led to dismay in Indy.  Charlie Kimball was running out of gas and kept it low, and rather than cruise behind him in the fourth and final corner, Hildebrand made a bold move and tried to pass fellow rookie Kimball on the outside.  However, Hildebrand got too high and slid on the marbles into the turn four wall.  Amazingly, he kept the car going and was all but 200 yards away from winning on three wheels.

That mistake gave Dan Wheldon his second career Indianapolis 500 victory.  Wheldon led for the least amount of distance that any winner ever had at Indy.  The 200 yards he was in front were all that mattered.

Later in the day, during the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew made the call to keep him out in the end and gamble on fuel.  Their call nearly paid off, but like in Indy, the National Guard car had problems coming off the fourth turn heading to the checkered flag. Jr. ran out of fuel and gave Kevin Harvick the victory in the 600-mile race. 

By the end of the night, 1,100 miles of racing had taken place, and the National Guard cars in both series were leading heading to the checkered flags.  What a story it could have been the National Guard cars won their respective races on Memorial Day Weekend. 

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J.R. Hildebrand would have been the young American driver that Indy Car is searching for, had he won the biggest race in the world in his first career start at Indy.  Further, he would have been the first American to win the 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. won it in 2006, and would have given Indy Car a lot of momentum.

Dale Jr., on the other hand, would have ended his winless streak on his hometown track and gained substantial attention during Memorial Day Weekend.  Not only this, but it would all have taken place in the National Guard car.