JR Hildebrand’s solid lead down the home stretch was no match for the concrete wall. Dan Wheldon easily sped by into the checkered flag – and into his second Indy victory.
Millions of jaws simultaneously dropped. California rookie Hildebrand had his Indy victory sealed away as he entered the final turn. Then, an unscripted event: he pulls too high on the final turn and slams into the wall. 499.5 perfect miles. His hope for victory was dashed around the last corner.
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Second place Wheldon, surely stunned at what he was witnessing before him, sped ahead cleanly into the win. A mere few hundred feet before the finish line, the 23-year-old Hildebrand kissed the concrete, fortunately maintaining enough forward momentum in his crushed car to slide across the line at #2.
In fact, the final three laps saw three leader changes – and all were entirely preventable. Bertrand Baguette was looking like the sure winner as he led several of the final laps before nearly running out of fuel, being forced into a pit stop with just three laps to go. Baguette ended up in seventh place despite a refuel that lasted five seconds, proving how strategy can slam the brakes on a sure win.
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Hildebrand, too, was running on empty as his victory became ever clearer. But as he moved to lap a straggler, he lost control. “I caught him in the wrong piece of track,” he said. “I got up in the marbles and that was it.” Dan Wheldon, whose first Indy win came in 2005, brings his second victory back to his native Britain.