Stefan Wilson was less than 10 miles away from an improbable Indy 500 win

Stefan Wilson, of England, walks to his car before the start of the final practice session for the IndyCar Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis Friday, May 25, 2018. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Stefan Wilson, of England, walks to his car before the start of the final practice session for the IndyCar Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis Friday, May 25, 2018. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

The 2018 Indy 500 was an entertaining one. Will Power won, Danica Patrick crashed in her final race and Helio Castroneves is still looking for a fourth Indy 500 title. 

• Stefan Wilson could have been the most improbable winner in modern Indianapolis 500 history.

Wilson was making his third IndyCar Series start and first since 2016 in Sunday’s Indy 500. Yet there he was leading the race with less than four laps to go.

He was at the front of the field thanks to some pit strategy. Wilson’s team had planned to pit earlier, but a caution for Tony Kanaan’s crash made it slightly plausible that Wilson, Oriol Servia and Jack Harvey could each make it to the end of the race without making a late pit stop. The three drivers didn’t run near the front of the field for most of the race, so they had the opportunity to try a different pit sequence to see if luck would fall their way.

It almost did. If four laps short is almost, anyway. Wilson took the lead from Servia with seven laps to go off the final restart. But he and Harvey had to head to pit road for fuel with just over four laps to go. Wilson ended up 15th.

Wilson, the brother of late IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, was supposed to drive in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. But his deal with Andretti Autosport was kicked to 2018 when Fernando Alonso said he wanted to run the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Moving Wilson made business sense; how often does a Formula 1 champion want to skip the Monaco Grand Prix for the Indy 500?

With Alonso in Monaco on Sunday, Wilson kept his Andretti ride and said his brother was riding with him throughout the race.

Justin Wilson died after suffering injuries in a crash at Pocono in 2015. A piece of debris from a crashing car ahead of Wilson hit him in the head. Wilson was hospitalized after the wreck and died days later. Since then, Stefan has been working to promote organ donation; many of Justin’s organs were donated after his death.

An organ donor organization was on the side of Wilson’s car on Sunday. A car that came within laps of making it to victory lane. Given his performance, Wilson deserves another shot at Indy in the future.

• Rear grip was at an absolute premium during the race. Ed Jones, Danica Patrick, Sebastien Bourdais, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan all spun after issues with rear traction.

This year’s race was the first for IndyCar’s new car design. The car meant Sunday’s race was far different than previous Indy 500s. There were far fewer slingshot moves for the lead and drivers were able to get away from each other if and when they had good-handling cars.

But good-handling cars were hard to come by, as evidenced by the spins. Castroneves said he had no indication his car was going to snap around off him exiting Turn 4. He was running fifth at the time of his accident.

“Probably went wide in Turn 3 and probably was a little of dust in the tires and then as soon as I came to 3 and I tried to pass Simon [Pagenaud] but the rear just gave out,” Castroneves said. “I was not expecting; I never had a sign. The car was good. It was definitely tough out there.”

Should the racing be tweaked for the future? Maybe. A little more rear grip probably isn’t a bad thing. But it’s a good thing that cars are on edge during the most important race of the season. And hot temperatures probably contributed to a lack of grip too. Temps were over 90 degrees.

It’s also plausible to think that teams will figure out a way to add more downforce without any changes for the 2019 race. A year of development on a new car can mean a lot.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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