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Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) - Rookie J.R. Hildebrand's costly mistake on the last turn of the final lap helped Dan Wheldon post a stunning victory in Sunday's centennial anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.
Hildebrand had the checkered flag in sight in what would have been one of the greatest upsets in the illustrious history of the Indy 500. Instead, the 23- year-old driver from Sausalito, CA slapped the wall in turn four. Wheldon then drove past Hildebrand on the front straightaway en route to his second win in this prestigious race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 32-year-old Wheldon led only the final lap. He became the 18th different driver to win the Indy 500 multiple times.
While Wheldon took the traditional sip of milk and hoisted the 110-pound Borg- Warner Trophy in Indy's Winner Circle, race officials reviewed the finish to determine if Wheldon was indeed ahead of Hildebrand when the caution lights came on around the 2.5-mile oval. The field is frozen when the caution occurs. Officials made a lengthy examination of the finish and then officially declared Wheldon as the winner.
At the end of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season, Wheldon lost his ride with Panther Racing. Hildebrand replaced Wheldon in Panther's No.4 car at the start of this season. Uncertain if he would drive at all in the series this year, Wheldon landed a part-time ride with Bryan Herta Autosport.
"I was just trying to go as hard as I could," an emotional Wheldon said. "I knew it was the last lap, and my [team] said that a lot of those guys were struggling on fuel, and I just kept pushing."
Wheldon won the Indy 500 for the first time during his 2005 IndyCar championship season, when he drove for Michael Andretti's team. He finished second in this race the last two years.
"It's been absolutely phenomenal; I love Indianapolis," he added.
Wheldon also gave Bryan Herta Motorsports its first victory in just the team's second start in the series.
"Dan Wheldon is probably the best driver ever at Indianapolis Motor Speedway," team owner Bryan Herta said. "We're so lucky to have him in our car. We just won the Indy 500. Can you believe that? We came here to win, and we actually won."
Hildebrand, who made his final pit stop with 40 laps remaining, managed to drive his crippled car across the finish line in second.
"We were super tight on fuel, so I went to the high side, and as soon as I got up there, I just got up into the marbles and pushed it into the wall," a disappointed Hildebrand said.
Graham Rahal finished third, while Tony Kanaan took the fourth spot.
Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti dominated most of the race by leading a combined 124 of the 200 laps. Dixon, who led the most laps with 73, lost track position during the closing laps and wound up finishing fifth. Franchitti, the two-time defending series champion and last year's winner of the Indy 500, was forced to pit on the final lap, which led to a 12th-place result.
"We worked very hard to get the car in the lead," Franchitti said. "I'm not going to second guess my guys on the timing of the stop. We've won two [series] championships and two Indy 500s, making those kind of calls, and we were in a position to win another Indy 500. It just didn't work out our way. I'm pretty devastated right now."
Oriol Servia, Bertrand Baguette, Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti finished sixth through ninth, respectively.
Danica Patrick led several laps before she had to pit with 10 laps to go. Patrick finished 10th in what might be her final Indy 500 race. There is wide speculation that she will run a full schedule in NASCAR next year.
"You got to take a chance to win at Indy," Patrick said. "I would much rather come away finishing a little lower, but having that chance to win at some point in time. It was great to lead laps. We started pretty far back [25th]. Every time I come here, it gets more and more depressing when I don't win the race."
Patrick also led in the closing laps before finishing fourth in this race in 2005, her rookie season on the series.
It was a disastrous Indy 500 for Team Penske. Will Power had the left-rear wheel come off of his car while exiting his pit stall early in the race. Power finished one lap down in 14th. Ryan Briscoe placed 27th after he made contact with Townsend Bell and then crashed into the wall on lap 158. After Briscoe and Bell's incident, Helio Castroneves ran over debris on the track and shredded his right-rear tire. Castroneves, a three-time winner of the Indy 500, finished one lap behind in 17th.
Alex Tagliani, who became the first Canadian to start on the pole for the Indy 500, made contact with the wall in turn four late in the race and ended up finishing 28th.
The seven cautions in the Indy 500 led to several frantic double-file restarts. IndyCar's new restart format was used for the first time in this race.
After the first restart on lap 28, E.J. Viso hit the wall in turn one when he got squeezed in a three-wide battle for position. The double-file restarts at Indy had been debated in the days leading up to the race.
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