INDIANAPOLIS – His first shot at winning the Indianapolis 500 gone with a last-lap miscue for the ages, JR Hildebrand sat at the podium and calmly explained how he threw away the biggest race of his life.
There were no tears. No mumbled answers. No angry fists slamming the table.
Instead the 23-year-old’s words were even. His tone tinged with disappointment but not devastation. He smiled, or tried to.
When asked how he could be so composed, Hildebrand just shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m pretending pretty well, I guess,” he said with wry grin.
Racing with a discipline and savvy that belied his youth, Hildebrand drove beyond his years for nearly three hours on Sunday and put himself in position to become the race’s ninth rookie winner by stretching his gas over the final 30-plus laps.
One nudge of the steering wheel changed everything. Just a few hundred yards from the finish, Hildebrand slammed into the wall after attempting to pass a lapped car, providing one of the most stunning finishes in a century of racing.
Yes, he understands what he lost. If given the chance to do it again he would play it safer.
He didn’t. It cost him, and he knows it.
“I felt like I just made a mistake, and it (hurt) our boys,” Hildebrand said. “I guess that’s why rookies don’t win the Indianapolis 500 a whole lot.”