INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Dan Wheldon is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. He’s also _ at least for the moment _ out of a job.
“I’m sure I’ll be changing diapers by tomorrow,” Wheldon said with a laugh after his stunning last-lap pass of rookie JR Hildebrand sent him to Victory Lane at the Brickyard.
Wheldon was smiling when he said it, but he wasn’t kidding.
The 500 is the only race he’s under contract for this season, and even the addition of a second Borg-Warner trophy to his collection doesn’t mean the phone is guaranteed to start ringing off the hook anytime soon.
He’s aware more than most how delicate the economy is these days. He tried to court new sponsors when his contract with Panther Racing wasn’t renewed over the winter. He thought he had a deal in place to join a new team in January, but it fell through at the last minute.
Rather than take a ride with a team he didn’t believe could be competitive on a weekly basis, the Englishman opted to stay at home with his wife and two young children.
“Do I sit and home and think, ‘It’d be great to be out there? Absolutely,’” Wheldon said. “But it’s all I can do.”
Even the title “two-time Indy winner” might not be enough to get Wheldon any more work this year, though his performance put an exclamation point on a month that saw upstart teams hang with the deep-pocketed big boys at Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske.
The top four finishers _ Wheldon, Hildebrand, Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan _ all were competing in their first 500 with their respective teams, and their ability to thrive at the 2.5-mile oval showcased a much-needed uptick in parity.
Hildebrand actually replaced Wheldon at Panther and would have won if not for an ill-fated pass of Charlie Kimball on the final turn that sent Hildebrand into the wall.
Rahal came in a solid third driving for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, while Kanaan salvaged a tough day for KV Racing Technology-Lotus by finishing fourth after starting 22nd.
Kanaan, whose long partnership with Andretti Autosport ended last fall when primary sponsor 7-Eleven scaled back, viewed Wheldon’s win as a strike for talented drivers who are out of full-time rides due to factors other than on-track results.
“I’m surely happy for Dan,” Kanaan said. “He’s been through a lot. He got thrown out the window. A lot of people said that he wasn’t good enough.”
Not Wheldon. He never lost faith in himself even when the business of the series left him on the outside looking in.
“It’s just part and parcel of the economy,” he said. “I feel confident in my own ability to know that it’s not based on talent.”