05 May 2011

The Greatest 33: No. 26 - Dan Wheldon

With 25 days remaining until the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, Drive Hard, Turn Left & SB Nation Indiana is starting its countdown of the Greatest 33, the ultimate Indianapolis 500 field. Fans can build their own field by clicking here. Today, we look at one of IMS' finest drivers of the last decade, Dan Wheldon.
For a driver raised across the Atlantic on the road courses of Great Britain, Dan Wheldon took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like a duck to water.  In eight starts in the Indianapolis 500, Wheldon has led in four races and taken home top six finishes on five occasions.  If not for a little more luck at the track, Wheldon might be a two or three-time champion of the race.
Arriving for his first 500 in 2003, Wheldon was part of a dominant lineup for Andretti Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport), qualifying in the middle of Row 2 as a rookie.  However, an accident would knock Wheldon out of the race 14 laps from the finish.  By the next year, Wheldon was one of the dominant drivers with Andretti Green, finishing third in the rain-shortened event as the team went 2-3-4 in the 500.
2005 felt like Wheldon's year at IMS.  With three wins in the Indy Racing League season prior to arriving at Indianapolis, the driver of the No. 26 was the odds-on-favorite to capture the Borg Warner Trophy.  However, after two years of strong qualifying runs, Wheldon started just 16th in 2005.  
Methodically working his way through the field, Wheldon took his first lead of the day three-quarters of the way through the race.  With 10 laps to go, Wheldon was back in front, but was passed by Danica Patrick; three laps later though, Wheldon grabbed the lead back and cruised to his first win at the 500, the first won by an Englishman since Graham Hill in 1966.
Moving to Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006, it seemed as if Wheldon would continue to dominate at Indianapolis, as from the drop of the green flag it was apparent that the No. 10 car was the best in the field.  Wheldon would lead 148 laps on the day, but a tire puncture forced him to the pits earlier than planned and he was not able to get back to the front of the field and finished fourth.
Wheldon would not finish as high again until leaving Ganassi and joining Panther Racing in 2009.  The Englishman would repeat the effort in 2010 and looked to be in position to catch a slowing Dario Franchitti until a wreck on Lap 199 brought the race to a yellow flag conclusion.
In 2011, Wheldon will be back at Indianapolis, this time as an entry of Bryan Herta Autosport, his former teammate at Andretti Green Racing.

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