Dan Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500 by leading only the final few yards after J.R. Hildebrand crashed in the final turn. By doing so, he began a trend that lives on to this day.
Two-time Indy 500 winner and 2005 IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon tragically passed away nine years ago today in a 15-crash during the would-be 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a race which was ultimately canceled due to his passing.
Let’s take a look back at a trend Wheldon set by winning the 2011 Indy 500 in stunning fashion, a trend that lives on to this day.
When Wheldon won the 2005 Indy 500 as a full-time driver for Andretti Autosport, then known as Andretti Green Racing, he did it en route to securing a dominant championship, one that saw him effectively lock up the title with two races remaining. Since then, the title has been decided in the season finale every year, and that is set to continue in 2020.
He also started a trend by winning the race that year. Including his victory, five of the next six Indy 500 winners also went on to win the championship that year.
It happened in 2006 with Sam Hornish Jr. before Dario Franchitti pulled it off in 2007 and Scott Dixon pulled it off in 2008. The lone exception during this six-year span was 2009, when Helio Castroneves won the race but Franchitti won the championship. In 2010, Franchitti again won both.
When Wheldon won the race again in 2011, he started another trend, and that trend has now reached 10 years in length.
That trend? The Indy 500 and IndyCar champion haven’t been the same since 2010.
Wheldon was not a full-time driver in 2011, so naturally he did not win the championship. It was Franchitti who went on to win his fourth and final title later that year. In 2012, Franchitti won the Indy 500 to become the 10th three-time winner of the race, but it was Ryan Hunter-Reay who won the championship, his first.
In 2013, Tony Kanaan won the Indy 500 for the first time before Dixon won the championship for the third time. Hunter-Reay, already an IndyCar champion, joined Wheldon, Franchitti, Dixon, Kanaan among others as one of the drivers to win both a championship and an Indy 500, as he won the latter in 2014. But it was Will Power who won the 2014 title.
Juan Pablo Montoya nearly bucked this trend in 2015, as he won the Indy 500 and never actually trailed in the championship standings all year long. But after the final race, he and Dixon were tied in points, and Dixon won the wins tiebreaker three to two to secure his fourth title.
In 2016, Alexander Rossi seemingly came out of nowhere to win the Indy 500 on fuel strategy as a rookie before Simon Pagenaud won his first championship. In 2017, Takuma Sato won the Indy 500 and Josef Newgarden won his first title.
Power earned his first Indy 500 victory in 2018 before Dixon claimed his fifth championship. Three years removed from his title, Pagenaud won the Indy 500 in 2019 before Newgarden won his second championship.
This year, Sato became the 20th driver to win the Indy 500 twice, and the championship battle has come down only to Dixon and Newgarden. Sato sits in a career-high seventh place in the standings heading into the season finale, which is set to be broadcast live on NBC from the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 25.