By Cary Estes
October 16, 2012

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.

6. Winning the 24 Hours of Daytona (2006). Following his 2005 champonship season, Wheldon departed Andretti-Green Racing and began racing for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. But Wheldon's debut with his new team did not occur in an IndyCar race. Instead, he began the 2006 racing season by joining Scott Dixon and Casey Mears in one of Ganassi's two entries in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race. It actually was supposed to the team's second-tier entry -- behind the more established trio of Scott Pruett, Luis Diaz and Max Papis -- but Wheldon and his teammates powered to a one-lap victory. "There are some great names who have won this race," Wheldon said afterward. "To be part of that is very, very special"

7. Earning IndyCar rookie of the year (2003). Wheldon had made only two IndyCar starts, in 2002, when he was given the opportunity to replace the retiring Michael Andretti as one of the drivers at Andretti-Green Racing. He got off to a miserable start, crashing or spinning in three of his first six races. After finishing next-to-last at Michigan in July, Wheldon was 17th in the point standings with only six races remaining. But things suddenly began to click for Wheldon down the stretch, as the finished in the top 10 of all six of those races, capped by a season-best third-place run in the finale. In the process, Wheldon rose to 11th in the point standings and captured rookie of the year honors.

8. Beating Helio Castroneves by 0.0147 seconds (2006). Wheldon made his debut with Ganassi Racing one to remember, edging out Castroneves in the 2006 season-opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway in one of the closest finishes in IndyCar history. The two drivers were side-by-side throughout the final half-lap, running mere inches apart at more than 210 mph. Afterward, Castroneves said, "We were very close many times. There were a couple of times I don't think a hair could [have fit] between his wheel and my wheel. But I don't think we ever touched. I tell you, I respect him a lot after this race. Not that I didn't respect before, but he definitely drove like a champion."

9. Winning the U.S. F2000 championship (1999). A native of England, Wheldon moved to the United States in 1999 at the age of 20 in an effort to improve his chances of having a career in open-wheel racing. By the end of the year he had established himself as one of the sport's top young drivers. Even though he had little experience in oval racing, Wheldon won six times and became the first European to capture the championship in the lower-level U.S. F2000 series. "I've won a lot of races, but I've never won a championship in my life," Wheldon said at the time. "Winning this one is very special."

10. Spending his 30th birthday in Victory Lane (2008). Wheldon's 15th career IndyCar victory occurred in the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 22, 2008, which also happened to be the date of his 30th birthday. Wheldon coaxed 60 extra laps out of set of old tires after most of the other drivers pitted under caution and changed tires. The gamble paid off, as Wheldon never relinquished the lead. "What a great birthday present," he said afterward.

Wheldon donated his winner's check, $95,000, to the Iowa Red Cross to help the victims of a series of tornadoes and floods that had struck the area in the weeks leading up to the race. When asked about the generosity of the donation, Wheldon replied, "I just hope it helps put a smile on their faces."

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