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Factors converged in crash that killed Dan Wheldon
Interest in the final race, which Bernard had worked tirelessly to create, had risen enough that sponsors wanted to get involved. Because IndyCar is in the final year of racing its current car design, teams had expendable inventory.
It led to 34 entries in the field. That’s one car more than the Indy 500, five more than the race two weeks ago at Kentucky, and eight more than IndyCar had in Japan last month.
Who were these new drivers? Men and women without much experience at IndyCar’s top level.
It was the fourth start for Wade Cunningham, who was in the thick of the action where the accident started.
It was the third career start for Pippa Mann and the 20th for JR Hildebrand, who both spent Sunday night in a Las Vegas hospital recovering from injuries suffered in the accident.
At least six drivers didn’t have enough starts to complete a full season, and some of the veterans had raced only a handful of times this season.
They all turn out for the Indy 500, too, and the speeds on that oval are faster than they were at Las Vegas. But Indianapolis is a relatively flat track, is a mile longer than Las Vegas, and drivers have three weeks of track time to prepare for the race.
The drivers had three hours, 15 minutes of practice time over three days to get ready for Las Vegas. They were not on the track at all Saturday.
Davey Hamilton alluded to a lack of experience contributing to Sunday’s accident.
“You can’t come in here and race with these guys and think you’re going to beat them _ ever,” Hamilton said.
“I’m a part-time guy now. When I go to Indianapolis, I get weeks of practice,” he said. “But the days of me coming here, the experience I have in these cars, to try to compete against these guys is very, very difficult. These guys are tough, the best in the world. To compete and win, you need to do it all the time.
“And you can’t bring guys that have never raced, especially in IndyCars, to a deal like that,” he added.
Not every driver practices the patience and give-and-take approach required to make it unscathed to the finish line. Veterans in every circuit complain about young, aggressive drivers making moves far too early in the race and not understanding the etiquette required on a dangerous track.
Dario Franchitti, who won his third consecutive IndyCar title by default Sunday, recognized early that the racing ahead of him was far too intense. He hooked up with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, falling to the back of the field and away from danger.
That’s a common practice in NASCAR at Daytona and Talladega, where drivers have often laid back _ away from the action for 450 miles _ before mounting a frantic late charge through the field.
By Donald Lambro
Growth spikes are little more than trend-free anomalies
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