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Wheldon was airlifted from the track to University Medical Center; news of his death came from IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard:

“IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race.”

In his honor, drivers, many sobbing openly, took part in a five-lap salute around the 1.5-mile oval as thousands of fans stood and cheered from the grandstand.

Also injured in the crash were JR Hildebrand and Pippa Mann. Both will remain in the hospital overnight. IndyCar said Mann was being treated for a burn to her right pinkie finger and will be released Monday morning; Hildebrand was awake and alert but will be held overnight for further evaluation. Power was evaluated and released.

An autopsy was planned Monday for Wheldon.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ryan Briscoe said. “The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there’s just stuff everywhere. Crazy.”

IndyCar has not had a fatality since Paul Dana was killed at Homestead in 2006 during a crash in a morning warmup. Wheldon won the race later that day.

The accident appeared to start when Cunningham’s car swerved on the track and Hildebrand drove over the left rear of Cunningham’s car. Hildebrand appeared to go airborne, and Cunningham’s car shot up into the wall, setting off a chain reaction among the cars behind him.

Some of those cars slowed, others didn’t, and others spun in front of Wheldon and Power. There was so much confusion on the track it was hard to tell who was driving what car.

Power appeared to fly over Alex Lloyd’s car, his ride rolling into the catch fence and landing on its right side. His in-car camera showed one of the front tires coming toward him in the cockpit.

Wheldon then appeared to drive over a car driven by Paul Tracy, who seemed to be slowing down. Wheldon, however, went airborne and spun into the fence.

“It was like a movie scene which they try to make as gnarly as possible,” said Danica Patrick, making her final IndyCar start. “It was debris everywhere across the whole track. You could smell the smoke. You could see the billowing smoke on the back straight from the car. There was a chunk of fire that we were driving around. You could see cars scattered.”

Wheldon, who came to the United States from England in 1999, won 16 times in his IndyCar career and was the series champion in 2005.

Despite winning this year’s Indy 500, Wheldon couldn’t put together a full-time ride this season but had a deal in the works for 2012.

Andretti Autosport, the team with which Wheldon won the 2005 Indy 500, had agreed to a contract early Sunday for Wheldon to replace Patrick next season. The deal was supposed to be signed after the race.

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