Wheldon wins first Indy 500; Patrick narrowly misses, finishing 4th
By Curt Cavin
Originally Posted by English on tour
Who won? another great American driver no doubt
The Indianapolis Star
Dan Wheldon was smiling after yesterday's Indianapolis 500. Danica Patrick couldn't make up her mind how she felt.
On an historic day for auto racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Patrick became the highest-finishing female driver ever and Wheldon gave team owner Michael Andretti his first Indy victory
Patrick didn't know whether to celebrate or curse after watching Wheldon win at her expense. Wheldon passed her with seven laps to go on his way to his first Brickyard victory. Patrick ended up fourth in her first 500, in part because she stalled her engine mid-race and later spun to ignite a four-car pileup.
"I made some mistakes, some that I'll remember for a long time," she said after becoming the first woman to lead the 500.
Wheldon, the Indy Racing League's points leader, made no such miscues in his third start here. He wasn't rattled by a disappointing 16th-place start and hung around through one of the most competitive 500s ever, one that included 22 on-track passes for the lead.
Wheldon took his first lead on Lap 150 of 200 before swapping it six times with Patrick and her Rahal Letterman Racing teammate, Vitor Meira. Wheldon's experience kept him cool despite Patrick overhauling him on the Lap 190 restart.
The 26-year-old Wheldon became the third Briton to win the 500, following George Robson in 1946 and Graham Hill in 1966. It was a club he had longed to join since attending his first race in 1999 as a guest of then-driver Mark Dismore.
But it wasn't an easy pursuit on a mild afternoon in front of a crowd estimated at 250,000. In his first 500, in 2003, Wheldon flipped his car in the third turn after driving "like an idiot" while trying to block Sam Hornish Jr.
"I've loved the Indianapolis 500 since I was a little kid, and I'm going to enjoy this the rest of my life," he said. "I don't think people understand what this means to me. It's the first time I've ever cried in my helmet."
While the victory was Wheldon's fourth in five IRL races this season, it may mean more to team co-owner Andretti, who was denied an Indy win during his championship driving career.
"This place has been tough on me personally," said Andretti, who retired after the 500 in 2003. "I just felt one day [it] would repay me."
The race wasn't so good for Champ Car World Series points leader Bruno Junqueira. He suffered a concussion and two fractured vertebrae after hitting the wall following contact with A.J. Foyt IV. Junqueira will have surgery today.
Also injured in the race was Larry Foyt, who suffered a fracture in his lower spine in a second-turn crash on Lap 16.
Andretti Green Racing, which was created in 2003 from the former Team Green, also finished third in yesterday's race with driver Bryan Herta, sixth with Dario Franchitti and eighth with pole-sitter Tony Kanaan.
The crowd cheered Wheldon's winning moment, but it roared in support of the 23-year-old Patrick, who developed a heroic following with her swagger and month of competitiveness.
Patrick led 19 laps to leave her female predecessors behind. Janet Guthrie finished ninth in the 500 in 1978, but she was 10 laps off Al Unser's winning pace. Lyn St. James actually finished closer than Guthrie in 1992, seven laps behind winner Al Unser Jr. in 11th place.
Patrick didn't know how her performance will impact the sport, and she said at the moment she didn't care.
"I made a hell of a point for anyone, are you kidding me?" she said. "I came through the pack twice. ... It's hard back there. I think that might have showed the most today."
Patrick was in fourth place when she stalled her engine on the second pit stop (Lap 80). She was 12th when she banged off Kosuke Matsuura's tires in the fourth turn and seventh when she spun trying to avoid Scott Sharp just before the restart on Lap 155.
"I'm sorry," she told her team on the radio. "They were going so slow. I slowed down, but as soon as I went up high it just stuck."
Patrick felt Sharp purposefully slowed down to trick those drivers trailing him. But she didn't want to assess blame until she saw a replay.
Her car got hit twice in the mayhem, but somehow the damage was contained to her front wing, which her crew replaced in short order. That extra stop allowed her to take on enough fuel to finish the race — Wheldon, for example, had to stop again — but the Englishman was able to get new tires on his final trip to pit road.
In the end, that was the difference in Wheldon's victory, which officially came under yellow after Sebastien Bourdais, Champ Car's 2004 winner, slid into the wall off Turn 3 on Lap 199.
Bobby Rahal said Patrick's spin was "no harm, no foul," but Panther Racing teammates Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge felt differently. Both had top-10 cars eliminated in the incident that also claimed rookie Jeff Bucknum.
The other major accident occurred when Richie Hearn turned down on former IRL champion Scott Dixon in the first turn of Lap 114. Hearn accepted responsibility.
"A lot of people were trying to get through Turn 1 at the same time," Hearn said. "But it was my fault, not [Dixon's]."
Race chief steward Brian Barnhart ordered several drivers off the track for driving too slow, and slapped Sharp for blocking Buddy Lazier on the backstretch on Lap 179.
Only 15 cars were running at the finish, the fewest since 1997.