Indy 500/Coke 600 Flashback: Triumph for Wheldon, heartbreak for Dale Jr. in 2011
Memorial Day weekend is often regarded as the best weekend in motorsports. It all kicks off Sunday morning with Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco, followed by the Indianapolis 500 in that afternoon, and finishing off with NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600. The Indy 500 is usually the best race of the three, but in 2011 both the Indy 500 and Coke 600 had amazing finishes, filled with triumph and heartbreak.
In the Indianapolis 500, defending winner Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia were the dominant cars at the beginning of the race, as they swapped the lead amongst themselves.
On Lap 164, Franchitti and J.R. Hilldebrand came into the pits to top of their fuel in hopes of making it to the finish. As the race was coming to its conclusion, it was clear the winner would be either Franchitti, Hildebrand or Bertrand Baquette who were trying to make it to the end on fuel, or Dixon or Dan Wheldon who were good on fuel, but far behind.
Hildebrand took the lead with three laps to go and seemed on his way to winning the race in his rookie season. On the final lap, coming into Turn 4, Hildebrand went high to avoid a lapped car but made contact with the wall allowing Wheldon to pass him for the win. Tragically, this would be Wheldon’s final win as he was killed in a vicious crash in the season finale race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway later that year.
Fast forward a few hours later to the Coca Cola 600. The race was an action-packed one, as there were 14 cautions and 38 lead changes between 19 different drivers. Matt Kenseth led the most laps with a total of 103. The action really begins on Lap 396 as Jimmie Johnson blows his engine which led to the infamous Chad Knaus F-bomb. Kasey Kahne and several others stayed out in hopes of making it to the finish on fuel.
On the restart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead and pulled away, but ran out of gas heading into turn 4 on the final lap, handing the lead and victory to Kevin Harvick.