Wheldon Wins 500
May 29, 2005 | 4:14 P.M. EST
Wheldon overcame a stirring run by the rookie Patrick to win Sunday's 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 and give car owner Michael Andretti his first career victory at the legendary track.
The Englishman passed Patrick with six laps to go and drove on to his first career win at the Brickyard and fourth in the season's first five Indy Racing League events.
"This has been a dream come true for me," said Wheldon. "I've loved the Indianapolis 500 since I was a kid. The best drivers, the best teams in the world. I'm having an emotional moment," he said as tears began to form in his eyes.
Patrick had the estimated crowd of more than 350,000 on its feet late in the race as she led the legendary 500-mile race for the second time of the day. She made history earlier when she became the first female driver in Indy history to lead a lap when she maintained the top spot on lap 56.
But as Patrick's fuel load began to wane, Wheldon was able to pass her for the lead on lap 194. She slowly slipped back running out of fuel finally finishing fourth in the final standings but making a statement about her ability and talent.
"I think I showed I was a rookie with some of the things I did, but I think I showed my on-track performance is there," she said. "I'm proud. I'm proud of the team."
Patrick's fourth place finish was the best-ever by a woman at Indianapolis. The best previous finish by a female driver was 9th by Janet Guthrie in 1978.
While coming up short in her bid to make history, Patrick's Top 5 finish still capped an impressive comeback. After stalling on pit road after an early race pit stop, she rallied back to near the front of the field, only to get caught up in an incident just past the 100 lap mark.
The contact damaged the nose of her car, but the Rahal-Leterman crew was able to repair the damaged machine and Patrick continued her climb to the front.
"It's just crazy, I don't know how they did it but the crew did a crazy job," co-team owner David Letterman said. "She had a tremendous shot at it but she's no kid. This team is wonderful and did a fantastic job. I don't know how that kind of misfortune can befall you and still come back to almost win this thing."
Patrick's Rahal-Letterman teammate Vitor Meira finished second with Wheldon's Andretti-Green Racing teammate Bryan Herta taking third. Buddy Lazier piloted Panther Racing's Chevrolet entry to a fifth place finish.
"I never had a sip of this here so I want some of it too," car owner Andretti said in victory lane as Wheldon took a swig of the traditional post-race milk. "I finally won the Indy 500 - no more curse."
It was the first time an Andretti was back in victory lane at Indy since Mario Andretti won as a driver in 1969.
"I feel fantastic," Mario said. "This is just so sweet. Dan Wheldon really deserved this one. He drove so hard. It can't get any better than this."
The first half of the race featured a great battle between Sam Hornish Jr. and polesitter Tony Kanaan. Hornish led 77 laps but lost control on lap 146 and hit the wall.
It wasn't a good day for the Newman-Haas racing team, the defending Champ Car World Series title holders. Bruno Junqueira, who finished fifth in the rain-shortened race in 2004, ran among the leaders and was sixth when he tried to pass A.J. Foyt IV and wound up in the wall. The Brazilian driver was taken to Methodist Hospital complaining of back pain.
Junqueira's teammate Sebastien Bourdais slammed the wall hard on the final lap, which brought out the caution and forced Wheldon to take the checkered flag under yellow flag conditions.