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Indy 500: 'A helpless feeling' - Hildebrand

"I did for a second. The mirrors on our cars really aren't that great. It was tough to tell down the back straight. I took a glimpse to see where [Wheldon] was at," he said. "There was certainly a split-second where I thought, 'Oh, shoot, maybe I'll pull a Terry Labonte at Martinsville or Bristol or whatever it was that year!'" he said smiling, before it sank in again: "Obviously, no such luck."

Hildebrand was trying to be philosophical about how it turned out, to accentuate the positives and take some important lessons away from him.

"I'm smart enough as a rookie to not expect, no matter what's going to happen, I'm going to come to the Indianapolis 500 my first year and be in a position to win the race," he said. "As it turned out, we most certainly were. We were in a position that we should have won the race.

"So for me, it's not so much that I'm pissed off or disappointed that my face isn't going to go on the Borg-Warner. Just with this team, Panther Racing has finished second three years in a row now with the National Guard sponsorship, I felt like we had an incredible opportunity to get on a big stage for those guys."

Asked how he felt right now, Hildebrand insisted that "This is not really about me at this point. You always show up to try to win. But for me, my disappointment is for the team and for National Guard as a sponsor," especially with the Indy 500 being held as part of the ultra-patriotic Memorial Day weekend celebrations. "With so many servicemen and women out here for this weekend, it's really a treat to be a part of that. It would have been an outstanding feat to be able to get up on the top step of the podium for them, as well.

"It's not really like a personal thing right now," he continued. "Maybe down the road it will turn into a personal thing that I'll just be pissed off at myself for not doing whatever. In the end, it's really more about the people, for me at least, this team has worked so hard, it's such an integral part of being here at Indianapolis and being successful at Indianapolis, that's really where the sort of heartbreak is for me right now.

John Barnes, the co-owner of Panther Racing, was unswerving in his support for his devastated young driver.

"We came here with a rookie driver, and everybody says we're going to have trouble and everything. But I can tell you that he did a great job," said Barnes. "He drove to a fuel number I didn't think was going to be attainable. We're so proud of him and the people at Panther and the crew."

Hildebrand reciprocated the feelings. "John was great," he said. "That was certainly a welcomed face and emotion for me walking down the pit lane. Sometimes you never know what you're going to get from a team when you've just lost the Indy 500 by a spot or whatever. But he's a real driver's owner from that perspective. He's ultracompetitive, but at the same time he can understand I think the emotions of what the driver goes through, as well."

Panther were thought to be considering an appeal to the race result based on the way that Dan Wheldon had seemed to overtake Hildebrand under yellow flags after the smash while Hildebrand was still in motion, scraping down the track toward the finish line which he finally crossed in second place. In fact the course was still green until the chequered welcomed Wheldon home, but in any case IndyCar officials said that the result would have stood regardless.

"Brian Barnhart explained to us that because JR was a wounded car on the last lap, he was fair game," said Barnes. "I'm fine with that. It's a classy decision and we're not going to protest."




Related Pictures

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JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) wrecks on the last turn of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 while running in the lead. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 29 2011. [Picture credit: Jim Haines for IndyCar Media]
JR Hildebrand`s wrecked Panther Racing car slides across the finish line of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 in second place. [Picture credit: LAT Photo USA for IndyCar Media]
Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand reflects. [Picture credit: IndyCar Media]
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V-6, celebrates his victory Sunday, April 19, 2015 after winning the Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach in the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Russell LaBounty/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Chevrolet sweeps the podium as Juan Pablo Montoya (l to r), driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar; Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Verizon Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet V-6 and Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Automobile Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet V-6, celebrate Saturday, April 18, 2015 after finishing third, first and second in the Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach through the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Russell LaBounty/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6 pumps his fist as he crosses the finish line, winning the Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 19, 2015 in the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6 races to victory Sunday, April 19, 2015 winning the Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach in the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon lead the field into Turn 1 during the start of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Richard Dowdy for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon enters Turn 3 during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Richard Dowdy for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon navigates the fountain turn complex during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Richard Dowdy for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon wins the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
The confetti flies in Victory Lane for Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and Juan Pablo Montoya on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon celebrates in Victory Lane following his win in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon drinks the champagne following his win in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon drinks the champagne following his win in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday April 19 2015. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Josef Newgarden in his pit stand. (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Josef Newgarden apexes the hairpin turn during qualifications for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo by: Richard Dowdy for IndyCar Media)
Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Automobile Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet V-6 IndyCar, celebrates winning the pole Saturday, April 18, 2015 for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach through the streets of Long Beach, California. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)

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