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Indy 500: Wheldon takes second title as JR crashes

Was this a sign that Penske were suddenly starting to show some form at long last? As it happened - no, it was more a sign that Dario was suddenly far less comfortable during this part of the race, the set-up just no longer to his liking as the afternoon warmed up and broke into the 90s Fahrenheit. Servia sensed the weakness and passed Dario for the lead on lap 114, promptly going on to put Helio a lap down again after all.

Dario seemed to adapt and on lap 132 he was strong enough again to retake the lead, but pit stops were looming and he was mightily pleased to get in and have a whole raft of adjustments dialled in to to the car for the final third of the race. This time for once, the pit stops cycled through without a caution interrupting proceedings.

Instead, one came on lap 148 - and sadly it was for the exit from the race of the well-liked polesitter Alex Tagliani, who slid the Sam Schmidt Motorsports #77 onto the marbles and into the wall at turn 4 while dealing with JR Hildebrand. Tag had been dropping down the running order since the midpoint of the race and had already looked a spent force as far as the race win went.

"We had a really good, balanced car early on. It was nice to drive it," he said. "Then all of the sudden, it became very loose. I couldn't really get it back on track ... In one of our pit stops, we thought we fixed it, but we didn't. It's a shame, because early on the car was so good I thought we had a shot at it all race long. But we kind of lost the car at some point; very curious."

With only 50 laps to go now, fuel strategies were starting to come into focus. Most of the cars stayed out of pit lane, but Marco Andretti and Townsend Bell opted to come in, dropping them to 10th and 11th respectively; that left the leading top six lined up in the order Franchitti, Dixon, Servia, Wheldon, Kanaan and Hildebrand, with Danica Patrick running in seventh.

Dario didn't even bother pretending to abide by a double file restart when things got underway again, and just shot off into the lead as fast as he could. But it proved to be a short-lived green flag, with another caution coming on lap 158 when Townsend Bell - who had been unusually inconsiderate of other cars on the track during the day and lucky to escape without any collisions so far - finally rode to the end of his luck.

He pinched down on the #6 of Penske's Ryan Briscoe into turn 1, and Briscoe had no where to go except into the #99. Bell was sent up into the wall and Briscoe followed, the Schmidt Racing car making an unwilling crumple zone for Briscoe's own impact.

"I've got to see the replay, but it seems like somebody hit me in my left rear, I think it was Ryan," said Bell. "I saved it in turn 1 and whammo, it got me again and pinned me in the wall."

Briscoe denied it was his fault, but was forgiving toward Bell at the same time: "I saw Townsend brush the wall in turn 4. Everyone was going down the inside. I was just following through on the inside into turn 1," he explained. "I just think he didn't know I was there, and he just came down and pinched me. As soon as we made contact, the wheels interlocked. And that was it."

Pit stops followed, but with 40 laps still to go it was too far to make it on a single final tank of gas - everyone would have to pit again. Except that on the very last lap of the caution period, two cars decided to dive into the pits and get a late extra top-up of fuel in a bid to make it all the way to the flag after all, now it was just 36 laps away.




Related Pictures

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Pippa Mann is delighted, giving interviews after succeeding in qualifying for the Indy 500 grid. Bump Day, Sunday May 23, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Picture credit: Dana Garrett for IndyCar Media]
Andretti Autosport`s Danica Patrick during Indianapolis 500 qualification weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2011. [Picture credit: IndyCar Media]
Dan Wheldon, who crossed the line first at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 race on Sunday May 29. [Picture credit: IndyCar Media]
The start of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29: Alex Tagliani (bottom), Scott Dixon (middle) and Oriol Servia (top) form the front row. [Picture credit: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media]
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]
Dan Wheldon celebrates with the traditional drink of milk at end of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: LAT Photo USA]
Dan Wheldon celebrates at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: LAT Photo USA]
The start of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29. [Picture credit: Larry Seidman for IndyCar Media]
Will Power and Carlos Munoz flank winner Mike Conway during their victory lap (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon rolls out of pitlane during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Carlos Munoz, Mike Conway and Will Power celebrate on the podium after the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Carlos Munoz, Mike Conway and Will Power celebrate on the podium after the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Mike Conway (centre), driver of the #20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka / Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates his victory with champagne Sunday, April 13, 2014 after winning the IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach in Long Beach, California. Will Power (right), driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, finished second. (Photo Credit: Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Will Power on track (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Will Power signs an autograph for a young fan at Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Will Power on course during practice at Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Will Power in the fountain turn complex during practice at Long Beach (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Will Power in the fountain turn complex during practice at Long Beach (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)

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