Tue May 31 04:06pm EDT
The Indianapolis 500 was Dan Wheldon's first race of the season. And if nothing changes with his contract status, it could be his last.
Wheldon, who won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when rookie JR Hildebrand crashed while entering the final turn of the final lap, signed a one-race deal -- the Indy 500 -- with Bryan Herta Autosport. Since it was a one-race deal, Wheldon's now a free agent.
"It was one of those offseasons where I did believe that I was going to get a full-time ride," Wheldon, the 2005 Izod IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion, said after winning the 500 on Sunday. "I had that confidence. But, you know, come the end of January, things hadn't panned out as I expected. "
Wheldon and Herta were teammates at what's now Andretti Autosport, and after Herta offered his car to Wheldon for the 500, Wheldon accepted. But Herta wasn't planning on running any other races in 2011, and it's far from a guarantee that his team will be on the grid in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 11 — with or without Wheldon.
Oddly, Wheldon was in Texas on Tuesday promoting a race in which he isn't even scheduled to participate.
While it may seem bizarre on the surface that a former champion like Wheldon had a hard time finding a ride for 2011, sponsorship and competitive teams are at a premium in the IndyCar Series. 2004 Series champion Tony Kanaan, who was also teammates with Herta and Wheldon at Andretti, spent much of the offseason in limbo as well, securing a full-time ride with KV Racing just before the season began.
After leaving Andretti Autosport, Wheldon joined Target Chip Ganassi, then spent 2009 and 2010 with Panther Racing until he and Panther parted unceremoniously at the end of the 2010 season.
Wheldon's replacement at Panther? Hildebrand.