It was the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 so it only seems fitting that the race that has withstood the test of time would end with one of its most dramatic finishes ever.
On a holiday weekend in which we honor those that have served and given their lives in defense of our freedom, it just made sense that the National Guard sponsored car driven by rookie J.R. Hildebrand would be leading the race into the final turn and destined to take the checkered flag.
All he had to do was get through Turn 4 and coast his fuel-starved car to victory. But then he came upon Charlie Kimball and instead of backing off he went high and the track that has snatched victory from countless others over the years did it again. Hildebrand went into the wall.
Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner (ironically the driver of the National Guard car a year ago), but jobless this year until getting the call to run Indy for the smaller and underfunded Bryan Herta Autosport, was sitting in fifth place with just 10 laps to go. With other cars in front of him having to pit or not able to go full throttle conserving fuel, Wheldon expertly moved his way into the second spot and took that final turn flawlessly.
But before Wheldon could celebrate he still had to beat Hildebrand to the finish line. Despite the crash his car was scraping along the wall on three wheels directly pointed at the checkered flag. Wheldon zipped past just before the caution lights came on and claimed the victory just car lengths ahead of Hildebrand.
JR Hildebrand slammed into the wall on the final turn, and Dan Wheldon drove on past to claim an improbable win.
Legendary Indy 500 owner Roger Penske struggled for the second consecutive year with Will Power losing a tire coming out of pit row early, then Helio Castroneves suffering a cut tire and Ryan Briscoe getting wiped out late in a crash with Townsend Bell. The race featured 23 lead changes — including Danica Patrick in front with 20 laps to go — until she had to pit for fuel. Graham Rahal, the son of Indy legend Bobby Rahal, saw some time in first and finished third.
The Indianapolis 500 is the one day out of the year that IndyCar takes center stage. It’s a sport that has fallen off from being the premiere racing circuit to an afterthought that just pops up annually on Memorial Day weekend. But as anyone that saw this race Sunday can attest, it’s a sport that contains everything you would want — speed, drama, suspense and unbelievable finishes.
And, with such an epic ending on the year that the Indianapolis 500 hit the century mark, one could say she definitely doesn’t act her age.
You can follow Kevin Graham’s random daily riffs on INDYCAR and sports in general at www.SportsMashup.com and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kevingraham1280.
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