Dan Wheldon insists he wasn’t thinking it, but it’s impossible for me to believe him. Wheldon, who was racing in the Indianapolis 500 on just a one-race contract, sat in second place entering the final turns. If it were me, I’d have to be thinking that was an outstanding finish for a guy who deserves a shot at a full-time gig.
Instead, Wheldon said he was still driving hard, hoping he might have a chance to win if rookie JR Hildebrand ran out of gas and was coasting to the finish line. That scenario never played out, but another one did as Hildebrand attempted to pass a lapped car and put his car in the wall in the final turn of the 500-mile race that he was just about to win.
Wheldon passed Hildebrand just before the yellow caution lights flashed, capturing his second Indy 500 in a finish that no one will forget for a while and one that put the sport back on the highlight reel. Wheldon still doesn’t have a full-time ride, but that probably matters quite a bit less today than it did last week.
Dan Wheldon joined 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis with Grady and Big Joe to discuss what he was thinking during the final lap, why he was able to pass a lapped car easier on the last lap than Hildebrand was, if it was sweeter given that he doesn’t have a full-time ride, why he thanked his family so much in the post-race interviews and if he would have been satisfied finishing second.
What is going through his head as he enters Turn 4 and sees JR Hildebrand in the wall?:
“I actually saw him very late because with 20 laps to go the team had told me there was various strategies that various teams and drivers were playing out. The strategy that I had was we pitted … and some of the other cars stayed out. JR was obviously one of them. That told me that, with 20 laps to go, every lap had to, in effect, be a qualifying lap. I couldn’t lose any time. … Going into Turn 3 on the final lap, I was drafting behind another car … and at the short chute I was able to overtake the car, but I was so focused that I cleared that car without crashing, I didn’t really notice JR until late. … From that point on, it was just about staying focused, no tunning over the debris and making sure that he didn’t come back across to the inside part of the track. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Given that Hildebrand also crashed while passing a slower car like he did, was he aware of the marble situation at that point?:
“Yes, but I think the biggest disadvantage he had was he wasn’t able to run as fast as I was because he was trying to conserve fuel. Whereas I was able to quite easily duck inside of the car that I was able to pass, it was obviously more difficult for him.”
Does it make it that much more sweet that he doesn’t have a full-time ride?:
“Yeah. Honestly, I’m always incredibly motivated when I’m on the track. I think what I found since not being in the racecar full-time, it hasn’t re-energized me, it hasn’t kind of re-motivated me, what it’s done is it’s made me appreciate everything a lot more. … The environment that [Bryan Herta] has created has really kind of got me back to how I like to be. I’ve got that happy fire in me.”
Was there a time where being without a full-time ride nearly made him depressed?:
“It was never that. Certainly I felt like I had the talent to be in a full-time ride. I obviously feel like I can be very, very competitive. I’ve never had moments where I’ve really thought that I can’t do the job. But there’s moments where you need a pick-me-up, so to speak, and my wife has always been there from that standpoint. … My wife knows and my family back in England know that being in a car full-time is really what I love to do. … That made this win all that more emotional.”
Was he going to be satisfied with a second-place finish?:
“I was going to push the whole time because I knew JR must have been very, very close on fuel. … I knew there was a high percentage chance that he was going to sputter toward the start-finish line so I was committed til the end. I was driving it like I stole it as they stay. That’s what you’ve got to do at Indianapolis.”