The crowd at the Brickyard for today's 100th Annoversary Indianapolis 500 certainly got their money's worth. Once all the pre-race pageantry and fanfare was out of the way, the 2011 Indy 500 provided a spectacle full of drama, lead changes, and a shocking, exciting finish. Click past the break to see how the race shook out, right up to the final corner.
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Scott Dixon jumped to an immediate lead as the green flag waved in Speedway, Indiana, as polesitter Alex Tagliani began an afternoon of disappointments by falling back to third behind Townsend Bell.
As the leaders dueled at the front of the field, Simona De Silvestro came in on lap four after brushing the outside wall in Turn 4. The injured Swiss driver's afternoon would go downhill from there, as her car never fully recovered from that impact, forcing her eventual retirement from the fray.
With the opening laps gone and the race still young, the field settled in to a rhythm that saw the lead pack stay steady.
Former F1 ace Takuma Sato broke up the action on lap 21, piloting his Lotus into the outside wall, bringing out the first caution. With an opportunity for low-cost stops in hand, the field mobbed pit lane for the first of six tire changes. As he left the pits, Will Power, who had been running in the top 10, lost his left rear wheel and fell off the lead lap.
The drama resumed apace on the double-file restart, which resulted in drivers trying to funnel three-wide into the first turn. This forced E.J. Viso into another car before he bounced into the wall, ending his day.
As the laps clicked off, it became clear that Tony Kanaan, who hadn't fared well in qualifying, would be a contender. By lap 48, Kanaan had climbed all the way up to 6th position from the 22 spot. Danica Patrick was climbing up the ranks as well, having moved from 25th at the start to 19th by lap 50.
The second round of pit stops brought out the third caution, when Jay Howard fell victim to a loose left rear wheel nut as he left the pits and crashed in the infield. Howard's crash was the second such incident of the afternoon.
Pitting under the ensuing caution proved disastrous for both Kanaan and Patrick. Patrick's car stalled as she tried to leave her pit box, and Kanaan overshot his after being crowded out by Pippa Mann. The foul-up cost Kanaan 35 seconds and the 16 positions he had gained.
Meanwhile, pole-sitter Alex Tagliani steadily fell off the pace. His fate was sealed on lap 148, when he bounced off the outside wall and was forced to retire.
The restart on lap 156 proved to be one of the wildest of the afternoon, as cars attacked the first turn three- and four-wide, though everyone came through without incident. This time though, with laps winding down, nobody was content to settle into a groove.
On lap 158, Townsend Bell and Ryan Briscoe tangled in turn one, crashing hard to slow the field again. The restart was a boost for Patrick, who had fallen from seventh to 13th.
Graham Rahal took the lead as the field went green again, but quickly lost it to a charging Scott Dixon. Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan showcased his immense talent, again working all the way up through the field to third place.
The leaders pitted on lap 178, dropping first place into Danica Patrick's lap. For the first time since 2005, she led the Indy 500.
Ten laps later, though, Patrick gave up the lead to Bertrand Baguette, as her early fuel stop strategy proved to be a blunder. With the laps winding down, Baguette looked poised to clinch the victory, albeit on a narrow fuel margin.
With three laps remaining, Baguette was forced to pit, handing the lead to poised rookie J.R. Hildebrand. Dan Wheldon gave chase as Franchitti fell back through the field trying to conserve fuel. Hildebrand stayed ahead of Wheldon as the white flag came out. With his team looking on, all Hildebrand needed to do was run an error-free lap 200.
It was not to be.
With a car below him as he rounded Turn 4, Hildebrand tried to run to the outside and stay on the throttle, a critical mistake that slammed him against the outside wall. As Hildebrand's car slid toward the finish line, Dan Wheldon snuck by underneath to take his second Indy 500 win.
A dejected Hildebrand skidded over the line in second, followed by Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon and Bertrand Baguette. Danica Patrick finished the day in eighth, while Tony Kanaan fell back to a disappointing 11th. After a long stint at the front of the pack, Dario Franchitti's fuel conservation late in the race left him to settle for 10th. For the full official race results, click here.