Ultimately, the 2nd-place (and so on) finisher of a race is "first loser," the driver we talk to about why they didn't pull it off. This is esp. true of a race like the Indy 500. But some words about Dan Wheldon, Danica Patrick, and Townsend Bell.
Prior to Carb Day, Dan Wheldon had a sub-par month of May. He crashed on Pole Day and struggled to find "balance." Evidently, Panther found it in time. Thanks in part to phenomenal stops, the National Guard car finished 2nd for the second straight year, besting 2 Penskes and 2 Ganassis. Hell of a job.
As for Danica, I realized what struck me most. Four yrs. ago, when she finished 4th, she had NO idea how it happened. Her knowledge of the car was non-existent. Today, she's become a racer, with s much, much better understanding of what her car needs and is doing at the time. Her 3rd place run was well and truly earned.
Unfortunately for Townsend Bell, his stunning 4th-place at Indy may be his only ride of the yr. The economics of the sport just prevent some talented guys from partaking. Still, if that was his only race, wow, what a drive! More remarkably, he did it on a 2nd-week program w/ limited practice. If his pit crew had been a regular, more experienced one, he could have finished 2nd.