Posted: Tuesday October 16, 2012 12:15PM ; Updated: Tuesday October 16, 2012 12:15PM
Cary Estes

Wheldon's top 10 career moments

Story Highlights

Dan Wheldon won Rookie of the Year in 2003, closing with three top-five finishes

The 2005 season was arguably Wheldon's best: he won Indy 500 and IndyCar title

Wheldon had a big role in testing new IndyCar cars, which were named after him

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Dan Wheldon
Dan Wheldon drinks the milk after winning his first Indianapolis 500 in 2005.
Michael Conroy/AP

1. The first Indianapolis 500 victory (2005). Dan Wheldon was probably the most overshadowed Indy 500 winner in history. The greatest moment of his career -- capturing the Indy 500 for the first time -- was considered by many people to not even be the most impressive accomplishment of the race. That honor went to Danica Patrick's fourth-place showing, the best Indy 500 finish by a woman. While Patrick received the bulk of the attention, Wheldon was the one who got to drink the milk in Victory Lane, and for him, that was all that mattered. Moments after crossing the finish line, Wheldon told his team over the radio, "Guys, I'm not [usually] emotional, but I'm crying. I can't believe I've just won the Indianapolis 500." And during his post-race television interview, Wheldon proclaimed, "This has been a dream come true for me. I've loved the Indianapolis 500 ever since I was a young kid. It's the best drivers in the world, the best teams in the world. I'm having an emotional moment. I'm just so proud." He later turned up wearing a T-shirt with the phrase "Actually Won The Indy 500" on the front.

2. Winning the IndyCar Series championship (2005). Wheldon was far from a one-race wonder in 2005. In fact, the Indy 500 marked his third consecutive victory and his fourth in the first five races of the season. That fast start shot him to the top of the IndyCar point standings, where he remained for the rest of the season. Wheldon picked up two more victories along the way and finished outside the top-six only twice, both times because of mechanical problems. Take away the race at Sonoma where he had to retire early because of a broken fuel pump, and Wheldon completed all but five laps the entire season.

3. His first career IndyCar victory (2004). Wheldon struggled during the first half of his IndyCar rookie season in 2003, but he closed the season with three consecutive top-five finishes. So Wheldon entered 2004 filled with optimism, which was quickly justified. He finished third in the first two races of the season, and then on April 17, 2004, he won the Indy Japan 300 from the pole position. Two months shy of his 26th birthday, Dan Wheldon had become an IndyCar winner. He would go on to pick up two more victories that season and finish second in the point standings.

4. Winning again at Indy (2011). In many ways Wheldon's second Indy 500 victory was more special than the first. He had been without a ride the entire 2011 season, so there was a sense of redemption in the victory, and it took place on the 100-year anniversary of the Indy 500. But once again, Wheldon's win was largely overlooked because of what happened to another driver in the field. This time it was rookie J.R. Hildebrand, who appeared headed for the victory when he hit the outside wall on the final turn of the final lap, allowing Wheldon to speed past for the win. "It's obviously unfortunate, but that's Indianapolis," Wheldon said after the race. "That's why it's the greatest spectacle in racing."

5. Taking part in tests for the new car (2011). Wheldon did not pout while being forced to sit out most of the 2011 season. Instead, he played an integral part in the development of the new car that the series unveiled in 2012, offering input to the engineers working on the design and then taking the car onto the track for numerous test runs. Many current IndyCar drivers have credited Wheldon with playing a crucial role in improving safety. The new chassis, which is estimated to be at least 30 percent sturdier than the old one, has been named the DW12 in Wheldon's honor.
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