INDIANAPOLIS -- Dan Wheldon became the first Englishman in four decades to win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, however, the race will forever be known for what almost could have been for rookie Danica Patrick.
Already a crowd favorite, Patrick overcame a stalled car during a pitstop that pushed her from a top-5 spot early in the race to eventually lead late and finally finish fourth. The fourth place finish is the highest ever for a female driver.
For Wheldon, the victory was especially sweet considering that it came for Andretti Green Racing with co-owner Michael Andretti getting his first visit to Victory Circle.
The Andretti family has had little luck in the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing.'
Michael Andretti led many times during his 14 times in the 500-mile race as a driver, but his best finish was third. His father, Mario, won the race in 1969, but had many a heartbreak as well.
For the Andretti family and Wheldon, the taste of milk was especially gratifying.
"No more talk of this stupid curse," said Andretti who co-owns the team with Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. "That's dead. You know it's going to be nice coming back here next year and not having to talk about that. It gets old, I'll tell you."
"For me, it just feels good. This place has been tough on me personally. But I just always had a feeling that one day it was going to -- I would have some good memories here, and it's finally happened. Hopefully this is the first of a lot more."
A capacity crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was treated to exactly what they wanted, a tight race that included Patrick, who elicited the day's biggest cheers as she moved through the field several times in competing for the win as a rookie.
Patrick started from the fourth starting position and ran in the top-5 for much of the early stages of the race before stalling her car during a pitstop during a caution. The mistake cost her 12 spots, moving her back to 16th overall while Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti traded shots at the lead.
Wheldon meanwhile weaved his way through the field and positioned himself in third place on Lap 127 following his teammates, Kanaan and Franchitti. He would later take over the top spot, leading for the first time on Lap 150 when his quick pitstop gave him the advantage leaving the pits.
Vitor Meira and Wheldon dueled for the point leading up to a yellow flag on Lap 172. Wheldon would head into the pits for a full stop while Patrick, who was eighth after having the nose/wing assemply replaced after a mishap during the caution, took the lead when she remained on the track.
Much to the delight of the crowd, Patrick drew a huge applause from the crowd as she led each lap through 186. But Wheldon was hot on her heels and would squeak past Patrick just as the caution flew for Kosuke Matsuura who made contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4.
Patrick would have none of the move however as she shot past Wheldon on the restart and would hold the lead until Lap 194 as fuel conservation became an issue for the Rahal/Letterman team member.
On lap 195, Wheldon got past Patrick who would slide back behind Meira and Bryan Herta, one of Wheldon's teammates, was third in the No. 7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda/Firestone. Former winner Buddy Lazier placed fifth.
"I knew I could pass her (Patrick), but it was just a case of timing," said Wheldon, who has won four of the first five IndyCar Series races this season. "And having done it once, she was obviously aware of where I was good and where I was not. So she made it a little bit more difficult. But certainly the guys in my car gave me a car that was at its best right at the end of the race, and I needed every bit of that to win this race."
Wheldon became the first Englishman to win the race since 1966 when Graham Hill won the race.