What's next for Indy 500 champ Dan Wheldon?

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) - Dan Wheldon pulls off a stunning win in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. The next day, he's unemployed. It's one and done for the 32-year-old Brit...at least for now.

Uncertain if he would even drive in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2011, Wheldon secured a ride with Bryan Herta Autosport for the Indy 500 only. Hours after winning the centennial anniversary of this race, Wheldon's contract expired with Herta, and he was back on the unemployment line.

He did collect $2,567,255 for his win.

"This is certainly more than I receive in unemployment," he jokingly said.

Wheldon's Indy 500 win came at the expense of rookie J.R. Hildebrand. With the checkered flag in sight, Hildebrand was on his way to accomplishing one of the greatest upsets ever in auto racing, but his dream of a lifetime came to an abrupt end when he crashed less than 1,000 feet from the finish. Wheldon led only the final lap to become the 18th different driver to win the Indy 500 multiple times. His first victory in this race came in 2005, the same year he won the IndyCar championship.

Dan Wheldon's contract with Bryan Herta Autosport expired hours after winning the Indy 500.
"When I saw him crash, I knew it wasn't serious," Wheldon said. "As soon as I knew it was not serious, there was a little smile on my face. From that point, it was just making sure that I didn't do anything silly. Then I think I got on the radio and started crying."

Hildebrand could only ponder what might have been.

"It's not really like a personal thing right now," he said. "Maybe down the road, it will turn into a personal thing that I'll just be [upset] at myself for not doing whatever."

Hildebrand won $1,064,895 for his second-place finish.

At the end of last season, Wheldon lost his ride with Panther Racing after spending two years with the team. Hildebrand replaced him in Panther's No.4 car.

Wheldon's IndyCar career began in 2002, running two races for Panther. He drove for Andretti Green Racing and then Chip Ganassi Racing before returning to Panther.

So what's in store for Wheldon in the near future? Right now, he's traveling throughout the country to fulfill his Indy 500-winning appearances and media obligations. After that, it's anyone's guess what Wheldon will do. Perhaps his phone is ringing off the hook with job offers. Or maybe he'll just spend more time at home with his wife, Susie, and two sons, Sebastian and Oliver, in St. Petersburg, FL.

"I really feel I have the talent to be in a full-time seat," he said. "With all due respect, I like this team [Bryan Herta Autosport]. I'm fed up with changing teams back and forth. I'd like to stay in one place and stay there for the rest of my career.

"But it is what it is, and I don't want to get frustrated at the things I can't control. It will actually give me more satisfaction while I'm sitting on the beach with my wife that I have a second Indianapolis 500."

Team owner Bryan Herta had planned on running only one race this season -- Indy. But that might change soon, with sponsorship opportunities sharply increasing after the team's victory. If there are more races lined up for Herta, expect Wheldon to be at the top of his driver list.

"I'm sure Bryan will do everything he can to keep me in a race car, but Bryan is an astute businessman, too," Wheldon said.

IndyCar's next race is June 11 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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