Dan Wheldon searching for next job
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dan Wheldon embarked on his new mission Monday -- finding a job.
Less than 24 hours after JR Hildebrand's crash gave the Englishman an improbable second Indianapolis 500 title, Wheldon was contemplating his racing future. With no ride lined up for IndyCar's next two stops -- Texas and Milwaukee -- or any other venue this year, his season could be one and done.
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"I'm unemployed. I'm unemployed," Wheldon said during his day-after victory tour. "I'm sure Bryan will do everything he can to keep me in a race car, but Bryan is an astute businessman, too."
In racing parlance, that means no sponsorship money, no ride.
For the moment, Wheldon has neither, and the sour economy isn't helping.
His contract with Bryan Herta Autosport expired at midnight, hours after a stunning victory gave the team a win in only its second Indy start. It was Wheldon's first win since 2008, and there's no guarantee Herta or Wheldon will compete again on the IndyCar circuit this season.
Herta's game plan was to run one race, Indy, then build its way into a full-time IndyCar team in 2012, a route he might still take. But Wheldon's win has changed things a bit.
Herta said Monday that he's already fielding some inquiries from businesses interested in working with the winning team and winning driver from Sunday's centennial anniversary race.
"I think there could be some opportunities created for us to continue," Herta said. "I'm sure that Dan will get some opportunities, and my hope is we'll be able to work together later this year."
Wheldon almost certainly would accept Herta's deal.
Yes, he had chances to sign contracts for more races with other teams, yet he chose Herta's one-off deal because he thought it was the best equipped to compete.
Herta's team, Wheldon said, gave him confidence the No. 98 car could win, and Herta's team was willing to listen when Wheldon questioned the numbers his engineer wanted to use for setting up the car on race day. On Saturday, the engineer called Wheldon back to thank him for pointing out the flaw in the calculation, which might have been the difference between winning and losing this year's 500.
To Wheldon, it seemed like a throwback to 2005, the year he dominated IndyCars with six wins and 12 top-fives in 16 starts and easily won the points title as well as the 500.
"I felt like the old Dan was back, the confident, bubbly Dan," Wheldon said. "That's why I do this."
Now everyone's trying to figure out where Wheldon will land next.
He said he would consider running in October's Gold Coast 600, a V8 Supercar road race in Australia, though he doesn't yet have a ride. He would like to compete in more IndyCar races, too, if he can hook up with the right team.
And those kinds of offers aren't always easy for 32-year-old drivers to find.
"I'm pretty sure no Formula One team is going to look at me because I'm getting a little older," Wheldon said. "Honestly, I have to evaluate all of my options now because I don't have a contract and I still feel like I've got some left in me."
Winning his second Borg-Warner trophy could help. Winning it the way he did, with Hildebrand's unbelievable mistake, almost certainly will help Wheldon jump back onto the racing radar.
"The last lap, I was catching Ana Beatriz and I didn't want to lift," Wheldon said. "When I came out of turn four, I was just focused on clearing her, and then I saw, just then, that he had hit the wall. I wanted to make sure I didn't hit any debris. I was just very surprised he (Hildebrand) went that high."
Few have excelled on the series' trickiest track like Wheldon. He won on the 2.5-mile oval in 2005 and 2011, had runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010, top-fives in 2004 and 2006 and has completed all but 47 laps in nine Indy starts.
Herta insists it's a record that proves Wheldon is still at the top of his game.
"I don't know why people didn't know that already, just look at what he's done at Indianapolis," Herta said. "I think any team would be lucky to have him in a car. We'd be lucky to keep him in the car."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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95TH INDIANAPOLIS 500-MILE RACE
It's time for the 95th running of the Indianapolis 500, but it's the number 100 that counts in 2011. This is the 100th anniversary of the running of the first 500, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Centennial Era celebration is in high gear.
Indianapolis 500 Home
Race Day, May 29• Blount: The thrill and agony
• Hinton: Oh yeah, Indy is back!
• Oreovicz: Bad day for power teams
• McGee: What a capper to 100 years
• espnW: A roller-coaster ride for Indy women
• Gallery: 100th anniversary of the 500
• Recap: Wheldon wins a stunner
• Watch: Full highlights
• Watch: Full booth analysis
• Watch: Wheldon so thankful
• Watch: Hildebrand crestfallen
Saturday, May 28• Blount: Hang on to your hats!
• Hinton: Back again in Indiana
• ESPN.com staff: Our podium predictions
• Racing Live! Indy 500, Sunday, noon ET
Carb Day, May 27• Blount: The weekend's best race is ...
• Hinton: Foyt legend still strong in 2011
• Gallery: A.J. Foyt, A Racing Life
• Hinton from 1991: The last ride of A.J. Foyt
• Hinton on the Field of the Century front row
• Hinton's Indy 500 Field of the Century: Row 1
• Oreovicz blog: Ganassi team leads Carb Day
• espnW: Patrick's mom, Bev, enjoying ride
• Blount blog: The way Mario Andretti sees it
• Ed Hinton chat wrap
• John Oreovicz chat wrap
• Podcast: Brent Musburger previews the race
• Podcast: Helio Castroneves is ready to roll
• SportsNation: Indy 500 predictions
Features• Oreovicz: Breaking down the field of 33
• Blount: Bumping Junqueira saved jobs
• James: Women find a niche in IndyCar
• SportsNation quiz: All-time lap leaders
• Indy 500 preview photo gallery
• James: No stopping Simona
• Blount: Indy shows NASCAR how it's done
• James: Women drivers carving a niche
• Oreovicz: Danica dodges Bump Day disaster
• James: A stormy day at the track for Danica
• Oreovicz: Wild and wacky Pole Day
• Oreovicz: Month of May primer
Practice And Qualifying• Danica makes 500 field
• Carpentier crashes in Sunday practice
• Tagliani wins Indy 500 pole
• Briscoe crashes in Saturday practice
• Di Silvestro cleared to race
• Castroneves tops speed charts
• Tagliani leads Friday at over 228 mph
• De Silvestro waiting for medical clearance
• Power leads Thursday practice
• De Silvestro burns hands in crash
• Rain scrubs practice again Wednesday
• Weather limits practice Tuesday
• Tagliani turns month's fastest lap Monday
• Opening Sunday washed out
• Opening day starts fast
Indy 500 Field Of The Century• Hinton: The method in our list
• Row 1: Foyt, Lockhart, Vukovich
• Row 2: Ma. Andretti, Mears, A. Unser
• Row 3: Shaw, Jones, DePalma
• Row 4: Meyer, B. Unser, Rutherford
• Row 5: Ward, Johncock, Fittipaldi
• Row 6: Rose, Unser Jr., Milton
• Row 7: Clark, Mi. Andretti, Villenueve
• Row 8: Luyendyk, Hill, Harroun
• Row 9: Castroneves, Franchitti, Montoya
• Row 10: Ruby, Donohue, Sullivan
• Row 11: Flaherty, Kanaan, Hurtubise
• The Social Pioneers
Indy At 100• Indy at 100: 2000 and beyond
• Indy at 100: Tony George reigns in the '90s
• Indy at 100: 1980s had stars, foreign cars
• Indy at 100: Speed and safety in the '70s
• Indy at 100: A time of change
• Indy at 100: The '50s golden era
• Indy at 100: WWII puts racing on hold
• Indy at 100: 1930-39 a dangerous era
• Indy at 100: 1920-29 a roaring time
• Indy at 100: 1911-1919 was pivotal
• Indianapolis Motor Speedway timeline
More• Indy 500 front row chat wrap
• John Oreovicz chat wrap
• Danica not tipping hand on future
• Foyt, Mears, Unser top "greatest" fan poll
• Scott Speed joins Dragon Racing
• A.J. Foyt will drive Indy 500 pace car
• China's Ho-Pin Tung eyes Indy 500
• Indy 500 to honor Tom Carnegie
• Buddy Rice heading back to Indy 500
Indy 500 Rewind• 2010 Flashback: Dario's all the way back
• 2009 Flashback: Castroneves wins again
• 2008 Flashback: Quiet Dixon makes noise • 2007 Flashback: Franchitti comes up big
• 2006 Flashback: Hornish gets his "Holy Grail"