What A Finish!
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.