IndyCar Series officials reviewed the order of finish, but announced there would be no change to first and second place. The yellow light did not come on until after Wheldon was past Hildebrand, which would assure Wheldon the victory.
Panther Racing officials are not protesting the outcome of the race. The official results are expected to come out Sunday night.
Wheldon, of Emberton, England, last won the Indy 500 in 2005 when he drove for team owner Michael Andretti. He left the team at the end of the season and joined Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2009 and 2010 he drove for Panther Racing -- Hildebrand's current team.
"In the corner of my eye I saw him hit the fence and just carried on by," Wheldon said. "As [team owner] Bryan Herta said, 'You have to make it to the bricks with a car that can go forward on all four wheels.' At that point I knew it was mine."
Wheldon drove a car owned by Bryan Herta to victory in the team's only IndyCar race this season.
"I think my contract expires at midnight tonight," Wheldon said. "With a Cinderella story we took on the might of Roger Penske's organization and Chip Ganassi. We've had a very quick car all month. I don't think I saw a Penske in front of me all of the race. So that is a testament to the team.
"This is obviously a special race because it is the 100th Anniversary. I'm honored to be the winner of this particular race."
Wheldon led the Indy 500 for the shortest distance in history and defeated Hildebrand by just 2.10876 seconds. Hildebrand took second, while Graham Rahal came in third. Brazil's Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Spain's Oriol Servia rounded out the top-6.
Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti dominated the race early. But Servia was able to contend with the two red cars before taking the lead midway through the race. Servia was attempting to give Newman Haas Racing its first-ever victory in the Indianapolis 500, but Franchitti took the lead on lap 130. Servia remained second, but was chased down by Dixon.
Franchitti pitted as the leader on lap 137, but Hildebrand soon overtook him. Dixon and Kanaan both got fast pit stops as the race continued. Hildebrand pitted on lap 139 and that put Bertrand Baguette in the lead with 61 laps to go.
Pole-winner Alex Tagliani, who led 20 laps before dropping back in the field after the first 100 miles, crashed in the fourth turn trying to get around slower traffic on lap 147.
"We tried to change all the weight jackers and protect the rear tire," Tagliani said. "I was really, really loose and Buddy Rice and I were side-by-side and I got into the wall."
Townsend Bell and Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe crashed in the chute between Turns 1 and 2 for the sixth caution on lap 158. To make matters worse for Penske, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves had a right rear tire shred. The crew replaced the tire but Castroneves was dropped to 19th, one lap down to the leader. Teammate
"It's a tough day but we have to execute and it's unfortunate what happened to Briscoe," team owner Roger Penske said.
Franchitti dove into the pits on lap 164, dropping him back in the field as he attempted to win the race on fuel strategy. Rahal took the lead on the double-file restart on lap 165 when he passed Servia down the frontstretch. But Dixon was able to track down the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal and take the lead on lap 172. Kanaan passed Rahal for second and tried to track down Dixon. Rahal regained second place one lap later.
From that point, it appeared that pit strategy would determine the outcome of the race and give the Indy 500 its first rookie winner since Castroneves in 2001.
Dixon peeled off the track for his final pit stop on lap 179, putting Danica Patrick in the lead for the second time in her IndyCar career. But she was running four to five laps short of fuel. She lost the lead when Baguette passed her with 11 laps to go.
With the three drivers in front of him having to pit for fuel, Franchitti was looking good in fourth place. Franchitti moved up to second and was biding his time until Baguette would have to pit. He did with three laps later, putting Hildebrand in front.
But shortly after assuming the lead, Hildebrand attempted to pass fellow rookie driver Charlie Kimball with heartbreaking results.
"With the tires as worn as they were, the run being as long, there was a bunch of marbles [worn tire rubber] on the outside," Hildebrand said. "Once I got up there, there wasn't a lot I could do. There were a few choice words going through my head at that moment, really fast and frequently until I hit the wall. They were still going through my head now."
The rookie driver from Sausalito, Calif. was able to speak calmly about the biggest disappointment of his young racing career. It was almost as if it hadn't sunk in yet.
"This is not really about me at this point," Hildebrand said afterwards. "You always show up to try to win. But for me the disappointment is for the team and the sponsor. It's one of those things as a driver you never really know what you're going to expect. We knew if the race came to us we may be in a position to finish top-3 or top-5. But as a driver I'm smart enough as a rookie to not expect to come to the Indianapolis 500 my first year and be in a position to win the race.
"We were in a position that we should have won the race. It's not so much that I'm [ticked] off or disappointed that my face isn't going to go on the Borg-Warner Trophy. This team has finished second three years in a row including 2009 and 2010 with Wheldon. I felt like we had a real opportunity to get on the big stage."
But that big stage was reserved for Wheldon, a driver that made the most of his only IndyCar Series race this season.
"Right up until the point where I passed J.R. I didn't have any emotions," Wheldon admitted. "I was so focused. It was one of those races where it was so competitive that you had to be on your game. And the wind seemed to be getting under the front of my car. I was catching [Ana] Beatriz; I wasn't focused on what had gone on in the front. When I saw him crash, I knew it wasn't serious.
"There was a little smile on my face."