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Wheldon Dies In Crash At Vegas; Drivers React

[1]Former IndyCar Series champion and 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon died from injuries sustained in a horrific mutli-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

IndyCar officials called the race after word of his death, but drivers performed a five-lap tribute to Wheldon, one of open-wheel racing’s most popular drivers.

IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard said:

IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute to in his honor.

Wheldon became the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since 2006, when rookie Paul Dana was killed in morning practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Wheldon was competing in his third race of the reason, to win the $5 million bonus that was a league promotion to any driver who didn’t compete full-time in the series this year.

Wheldon was expected to replace Danica Patrick, who is moving full time to NASCAR in 2012, at Andretti Autosport. The deal was agreed to before Sunday’s race and was expected to be signed after the race.

The wreck started when Wade Cunningham appeared to swerve on the track on lap 11. JR Hildebrand drove over Cunningham’s left rear. Cunningham hit the wall and Hildebrand went airborne.

As the cars wrecked, debris spread across the track and some cars burst into flames.

Wheldon’s car went airborne and flipped as it hit the catch fence.

Several drivers openly wept at the news of Wheldon’s passing. Dario Franchitti said:

One minute you’re joking around at driver intros. The next, Dan’s gone. I lost, we lost, a good friend. Everybody in the IndyCar series considered him a friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer.

Danica Patrick tweeted [2]:

There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for Suzi [Wheldon’s wife] and the kids that god will give them strength.

Juan Pablo Montoya tweeted [3]:

life is not fair…. we are gonna miss a really great guy…….. Dan we r gonna miss u…

Brad Keselowski tweeted [4]:

Nice touch with the 5 lap salute. Kudos to indycar and most importantly the Wheldon family.

Jimmie Johnson tweeted [5]:

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Wheldon family… My heart hurts for all of the IRL community.

Denny Hamlin tweeted [6]:

Life shouldn’t be one of those things [that we take for granted]. We lost a great driver in motorsports and he will not be forgotten. Rest in peace Dan Wheldon

Penske Racing, JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Whitney Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, and others took to Facebook to express their condolences.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France also issued a statement:

NASCAR offers its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Dan Wheldon, his teammates, and the entire IndyCar Series community for their tragic loss today. They will be in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.

With all of the technology and safety innovations in use and being developed today, sometimes we take for granted how dangerous auto racing really is. At the end of the day, though, no matter how much safety equipment you have, these guys and girls are still strapping themselves to 650 HP, carbon fiber machines and hitting 220+ mph.

Rest In Peace, Dan Wheldon. You will be missed.