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Will Power wins Indianapolis 500; Danica Patrick crashes in final race

Will Power celebrates after his first Indianapolis 500 victory. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Will Power of Australia won a crash-filled Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon, a career highlight for a talented road racer who turned himself into a force on ovals.

There were seven crashes on a scorching afternoon in Indianapolis, leading to a late round of strategic decisions. Power’s team played the end game perfectly, giving the 37-year-old a comfortable victory after the two leaders, Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey, were forced to pit in the final laps.

The well-liked Power said in a post-race television interview that he started screaming inside his car when he saw Wilson and Harvey head down pit road in the final laps, clearing the field for what had been the strongest car over the second half of the race.

“I’m like, ‘Man, I think I’m going to win this!’ ” Power said. “I was wondering if I would ever win it. … My career, I’ve had so many wins, so many poles. But everyone always talks about the 500.”

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The win set off a euphoric celebration among Power’s team: The driver pumped his fist as he continued driving around the 2.5-mile oval, while his wife Liz cried during an ABC interview.

“He was so determined for this one,” she said. “And he did it.”

Danica Patrick’s final Indianapolis 500, meanwhile, ended much the same as her final Daytona 500 appearance in February: with a crash that wouldn’t allow her to finish the race.

Patrick was in 17th place when she lost control headed into Turn 2, a theme on this day. Her car spun wildly, careened into a pair of walls, and was soon being hauled off the track. She left the 500-mile race a bit shy of 200 miles.

That meant Patrick’s final 500 appearance would be perhaps her most frustrating. She finished 30th, her worst career showing at the event and only her second time out of the top 10. Her eight starts are the most for any woman in the race’s history.

“Today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want for your last race,” Patrick said in an emotional interview during ABC’s broadcast. “Wish I could have finished stronger. … I’ve had a lot of good fortune here, and did still have some this month. It just didn’t come on race day. But we had some good moments.”

Power, a Team Penske stalwart, won the 2014 series championship, and started third Sunday. That put him in the front row for the third time in five years. But he had just one top-three finish at this race before Sunday, and so he kept screaming after exiting his car, mouthing, “I can’t believe it” before dousing his head in milk.

“I just can’t believe it,” he said after the race. “I can’t describe it. I feel like collapsing. … I couldn’t stop screaming.”

It was the 17th win as an owner for Roger Penske.

Patrick was one of many big names to leave the track in frustration. About three-quarters of the way through the race, fan favorite Helio Castroneves lost control not long after a restart, a common sight on an afternoon in which passing was rare and crashes plentiful. Castroneves exited his car clearly peeved, but waved and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd, which showered him with cheers.

“It’s frustrating. Car was good,” the Brazilian said. “I saw an opportunity, that’s the time to go, but misjudged a little bit the tires.”

Castroneves was running near the front before his crash. He is the only active driver with three Indy 500 wins and has been eager to get a fourth. (“Please Roger, can I come back,” he pleaded with team owner Penske in his television interview.) Fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan, another former winner who had the lead early in the afternoon, later lost control in Turn 2 and also left the race.

Pole sitter Ed Carpenter finished second, Scott Dixon was third, and 2016 winner Alexander Rossi came from the back of the field to finish fourth.

The temperature at Indianapolis Motor Speedway hit 92 early in the afternoon, equaling the hottest 500 on record. (The track temperature was well over 100.) And those high temperatures, along with the new aero kits used by cars this season, appeared to have a significant impact on the race, limiting passing and making the cars hard to control.

Two of last year’s top finishers ran into trouble in the early going. Defending champion Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to win, crashed into the struggling car of James Davison from behind, taking both cars off the track.

Sato was released from the medical center, according to the ABC broadcast. He said he “tried to avoid everything” but was unable to, calling the crash a “really unfortunate situation for both of us.”

Then Ed Jones, who finished third as a rookie last year, lost control in a one-car crash going into Turn 2, not long after Sato exited. That sidelined two of last year’s top three finishers barely a quarter into the race. Jones was transported to a hospital, complaining of headaches and neck pain, according to ABC.

Later, contender Sebastien Bourdais lost his car going into Turn 4, taking another big name out of the race. He was checked, released and cleared from the infield hospital, according to organizers.

Patrick, who walked away from her wreck, was among the most interesting stories since announcing her plans to retire from racing after one last run at the track that sparked her rise. (“What really launched it was this,” she said Sunday, referring to the 500.) Shortly before the race began, she posted on Instagram that she was at a loss for words.

“Today feels heavy, but only because the chapter finishing has meant so much to me,” she wrote. “Thank you for the memories.”

It was her eighth start at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the place where she skyrocketed to fame in 2005. She was the first woman to lead the race that year and finished fourth, as “Danica Mania” began. She did better than that only in 2009, when she became the first woman to make the podium with a third-place finish. Her transition to stock-car racing took her away from the 500, but she returned this week for a farewell, with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers in tow.

The afternoon ended far earlier than she had hoped, ensuring that she won’t become the first woman to win at the 500.

“I’m not sure really what happened,” she told ABC, saying her car “just seemed to come around.”

ABC’s broadcast continued to tout her role hosting the upcoming ESPYs after her crash, and indeed, 13 years after her debut here, she’s likely to remain in the public eye. She’ll still have promotional interests, from a winery to a cookbook to a clothing line, according to NBC Sports. She’ll still be on television and figures to appear at some Packers games in the fall. That didn’t make Sunday’s ending any easier to stomach.

“I wouldn’t want it to end any year like that but of course it being the last one, it makes it a lot worse,” she told reporters after the crash. “I did have some good moments here this month, and I won’t forget that either.”

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