What A Finish!

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At about the halfway point of the race, I heard several fans grumbling that this was a boring race. I realize that I get into the Indianapolis 500 a little more than the causal fan does, but I never considered this a boring race. At any point in the race, you could throw a blanket over the top five and figure the winner might come from there. But if you weren’t thrilled by that finish, you might want to check into the morgue.

If you’re in the stands without the IMS Radio Network in your ear, you’re usually the last to know what’s really going on. I had an idea that Bertrand Baguette didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end, but I wasn’t sure. I have to admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of him winning the race. I don’t know why, but it didn’t thrill me. When he pitted and JR Hildebrand took the lead, I was very happy with the prospect of an American rookie with Panther Racing winning the Indianapolis 500. When he came around to take the checkered flag, I was watching the flag stand because it was hard to see which car was which, from my seats. I saw the checkered flags displayed, but not waved. I was confused. Then someone yelled “he crashed”.

I looked up at the video boards to see Hildebrand’s disabled car skidding along the outside wall.

Suddenly I heard Dave Calabro say over the PA that Wheldon had won. We were behind Dixon’s pit, but Wheldon’s was about two pits down from us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crew go so crazy, so quickly.

They had the victory celebration, Wheldon drank the milk and did the obligatory post-race interviews. But now there is the controversy of an impending protest. Panther Racing has asked for a review, saying that Wheldon passed Hildebrand under the yellow as JR was still sliding toward the finish line. The way it has been explained to me , there has not been an official protest from Panther yet. That’s only because the official results have not been posted. Once they are posted, you can bet that an official protest will be filed [Update: To their credit, Panther will not protest.].

I have several thoughts on this. First, I don’t blame Panther for filing a protest. It’s their duty to do so. But I don’t think they will or should win. I’ve already heard many arguments on both sides. It appears that it took a long time for the yellow to come on, after Hildebrand’s crash. Many feel that Wheldon was in violation of the rule that says you cannot pass under the yellow. I don’t have a copy of the rulebook in front of me, but there has to be provision about passing a disabled car that caused the yellow. Otherwise, Mario Andretti would have been penalized for passing Danny Sullivan in 1985 when Sullivan spun right in front of him.

If there was no provision like that, in 2006 – Marco Andretti should have just stuck it in the fence when he saw Sam Hornish closing on him. That would have cemented the victory for Marco.

I know I will have many disagreeing with me, but I can sum it up fairly simply. if you are coming out of Turn Four to take the checkered flag for the Indianapolis 500 and you crash due to your own carelessness – then you don’t deserve to win. This wasn’t Emmo touching wheels with Little Al. As cruel as it sounds; I heard Paul Dalbey, with More Front Wing, compare this to Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series. As bad as I feel for JR Hildebrand, this was an incredible choke. I’ve watched the replays and it just flat-out got away from him.

Donald Davidson has been talking a few times this month about drivers that crashed while leading. He now has a new leader in the clubhouse with the Hildebrand crash on Lap 199. JR drove a near-perfect race today. Unfortunately, that will be overshadowed by the final turn of this race for years to come. This one will go down as one of the most memorable gaffes in Speedway history, and that’s a shame. It will be interesting to see which way JR’s rookie year goes from here. Does he learn from this and build on it to enhance an already promising career? Perhaps this negative situation will derail what has been to this point a successful rookie debut. Hopefully, it won’t be the latter.

When Panther racing hired JR Hildebrand in the offseason, I boldly predicted that Panther Racing was assured on not finishing second for a fourth straight Indianapolis 500.  thought that there was no way that a rookie would bring them any success at the Speedway. How wrong I was. There is still some solace that JR finished second and is almost assured of the Rookie of the Year award that will be announced tomorrow night. That’s an accomplishment in itself, because he had some pretty stout competition.

Charlie Kimball finished thirteenth , but ran much higher than that, late in the race. Pippa Mann did herself proud. She was tentative at the first. She started thirty-first and quickly dropped to the back of the field. but she kept her nose clean and was very racy on many of the double-file re-starts. She finished twentieth and brought the car home in one piece, which is more than fellow rookies Jay Howard and James Hinchcliffe could say.

I’ll watch some of the ESPN telecast tonight back at the hotel, then go home and watch it in its entirety tomorrow night. But unlike the fans in my section, I thought this was one heckuva race. There may or may not be a post later tonight or tomorrow – depending on my energy level after my drive back to the hotel and dinner. But, I’ll give a more complete wrap-up within the next day or so, after I‘ve watched the DVR replay.

Please check back later and thank you for following Oilpressure.com this weekend.

George Phillips

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19 Responses to “What A Finish!”

  1. That was an incredible finish. I love the unpredictability of Indy, so that was everything I wanted and more.

  2. JHall14 Says:

    This race had it all.What a great day,other than the traffic issue.INDYCAR should be proud, they put on another great show.And most of all, Thanks to the Hulman – George Family,for allowing the multitudes to witness another great race at the World’s Greatest Race Course. And now that 2011 is in the history books, I will start preparing for 2012. I am lucky to celebrate Christmas twice a year. -30-

  3. If they thought that race was boring, they either were clueless or they judge how exciting a race is by the number of wrecks. Weldon won, happy for him and his team. I don’t think JR choked. I think he’s a rookie who thought he had enemies right on his tail (he didn’t) and he pushed it and Indy ate him up. (I wonder what his spotter was telling him?) Feel bad for the kid and that team.

    I’m still not sure what happened to Target. I thought they’d go one-two for sure. Disappointing race for Penske, Simona! and Tags, but a great race for fans.

    ABC pre-race was pretty good but I didn’t love their race coverage–at least twice they had to show a pass for the lead on replay. Lots of cameras that seemingly went unused. The commercials were endless and distracting and Goodyear and Cheever just seem bored.

    But the 100th Indianapolis 500 was great!

    • J.R. “thought he had enemies right on his tail (he didn’t) … I wonder what his spotter was telling him” I guess that his spotter and strategist at the pit did nothing while amazed — didn’t tell him to feather the throttle. Though I had hoped that Oriol might win, I assumed that one of the Target twins would win. I was entertained by the race, tracking Oriol, Dandy Dan and the Target twins, but the ABS booth crew was BORING.

  4. I was is row LL in the center of the North chute. This may well have been the best Indy 500 ever. The last 20 laps were wild and I am still not sure what really happened, but is was an interesting race from start to finish. I expected a very interesting, competitive race with lots of surprises and all were delivered.

    • Savage Henry Says:

      I was about 10 rows behind you in RR. I was so pumped that JR was going to win this race. When he went by we raised our beers to him and were celebrating, and then I looked down into Turn 4. Kimball’s car was going so slow it looked like he was stopped. JR was obviously too high. Such a shock to look on the video board and see that he had crashed. I still can’t believe it.

  5. I enjoyed watching the race for sure. However, I do think something needs to be looked at with regards to these cars that are running out of gas towards the end of the race. This is two years in a row that accidents have determined the way the race finished and both accidents happened due to faster cars coming up on slower cars running out of fuel.

    Hildebrand got up into the marbles because Kimball was going way too slow. If Panther wanted to protest they could and may have a leg to stand on.

    I don’t know, it is hard to say. It was a great race though.

  6. Saw the video of the finish after we got back to the hotel that clearly shows that the lights on the fence were still green until a split second after Wheldon passed J.R. Controversy averted.

    What a great race! I can only personally compare it to 2006 as one of those crazy finishes that you’ll always remember seeing, but I think this one’ll hold up with ’82, ’92 and some of the other close, classic finishes, even long into the future. I feel so lucky to have been here today.

    • Ya, and the starter/flagman waved the checkered before he showed the yellow…and he obviously had a clear view of what was happening. I wondered about the yellow/pass deal but when I thought about it (and after I saw the replays), no driver has ever been required to slow down to stay behind a crashing car because it would be a pass for position. Just ain’t gonna happen, period.

  7. I don’t consider JR’s wreck to be a “choke” at all. He got caught out on the loose stuff because he didn’t want to kill his ‘mo’ when he knew the others were coming. He thought it out, tried what he was sure he’d have to do to stay out front, and the marbles got him. I was cheering for him, subsequently heartbroken for him, and then pretty elated for Herta, actually, moreso than for Dan Wheldon. But the degree of humble and sincere gratitude that Dan displayed in Victory Lane actually made me happy for him too, and then I (along with about a million others) got misty-eyed when he mentioned his Mom and the ALZ situation.
    I thought the race was terrific. I’ve often posted (either in comments or when I was blogging for TracTalk) that I think the more recent crop of fans have been too NASCAR-ized when it comes to calling a race “good” or “boring”. The Indy 500 today was, in fact, a GREAT race. If they don’t get it, there’s one in Charlotte they should turn their loyalties towards.

  8. Ron Ford Says:

    Anyone who found this race boring needs to look in the mirror. It will rank as one of the best in my long memory.

    I also don’t think that JR choked. I agree that he made a split second decision to keep his momentum when he heard his spotter tell him that the others were “coming hard”. Perhaps a driver with more experience would have handled the situation a little better. There is little margin for error at Indy.

    Wheldon deserves the win (and a full-time ride). Too bad they couldn’t have put a little extra ethanol in Danica’s water bottle or somewhere.

  9. Steve K Says:

    Good thing JR is a rookie. A vet would be on suicide watch.

    • What I’ve told peoples that this situation wasn’t that a dominating racer who’d led for 70 laps and had the win almost in-hand was crashed by a competitor on the last lap and thus robbed of a well-deserved win. I said that J.R. hadn’t expected all month, or all week, or all race to win as a rookie AND that he crashed solo as several others had earlier.

  10. HB Donnelly Says:

    Whoever said this race was boring clearly did not have their eyes on the 82 car. There was a time that I thought Tony Kanaan, who started 22nd, moved into the top ten, dropped back to the high 20s, then came up to 2nd; he was absolutely unbelievable to watch!

    You’re right about Baguette: the kid’s a fine racer, but nobody knows who he is or what he’s done in the past, and it’s hard to get American fans excited about someone with such a ridiculously French name.

    The emotions of the end, with Danica, then Baguette, then Hildebrand, then the crash…just amazing. Penske was absolutely awful through no fault of the drivers, and same with Ganassi; that’s something you don’t hear at the end of the 500 vary often.

    Congrats, Dan!

    • billytheskink Says:

      Agreed on all counts. What an amazing race.

      Not that Dan and JR weren’t amazing, but the drive of the race has to go to either Kanaan or Rahal. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made 75 passes for position on track, between them both.

  11. It is Monday morning and I am exhausted from this fantastic weekend and one of the very BEST Indianapolis 500s ever run and, George, I hope you remember my picking Wheldon as my dark horse. After this performance by Dan I am going to re-think my list of the top 33 drivers.

    By the way, a big shout out to Speedgeek and Rick, I wish we could have spent more time together. That was a lot of fun and you guys are great! Samer with the Philips bunch and our FedEx pal and his son. There is something pretty awesome about race fans and hanging out.

    • Fantastic weekend is right. I’ll just parrot everyone else and say, “Great race!” So many stories…

      You too, John, one of the best parts of Indy is meeting friends new and old.

  12. Ron Ford Says:

    I sometimes think I could give my old Chrysler Town and Country van to Tony Kanaan and he would put it into the top ten. WOW!

    I hope some of you fine folks can make it up to Milwaukee. I’ll keep the beer cold and the light on for you.

  13. Travis R Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the race. Getting a chance to see the Marmon Wasp actually driving would have been enough by itself, but the day was great all the way through. We really enjoyed the show from Stand A, and for the first time ever, didn’t have at least one group of obnoxious drunks sitting near us.

    To top it off, it was a hell of a race! Quite a few guys managed to charge from the back, and the finish was unbelievable. I can’t see how anybody would find it boring.

    What a day!

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