Dan Wheldon would have been 35 today

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Throughout the life of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, he gave the IZOD IndyCar Series and its fans many things – chief among them being an exciting style of driving in the cockpit and a charismatic yet kind-hearted personality out of it.

But as today marks what would have been his 35th birthday, one can’t help but think of another gift he helped give to the sport. The Dallara DW12, which earned its name after Wheldon’s tragic death in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, has served as a phenomenal boost to the series. Wheldon and Bryan Herta Autosport developed the car early on, helping to identify key weaknesses that IndyCar and Dallara would work on leading up to its official debut in the 2012 campaign.

Sadly, Wheldon would not be able to completely see the project through. But through his and BHA’s efforts, the DW12 would eventually become track-worthy. And there can be no argument that it has provided some of the best racing on the planet over the last year and a half. IndyCar’s on-track product has been stellar, which should give its fans hope even as the series continues its current battle to reclaim the public presence it once had.

Indeed, while we wish Dan Wheldon was still here, his presence is still felt in a very positive manner.

Happy Birthday, Lionheart. From all of us.

Here’s who were picking to win the Indy 500 — who are YOU picking?

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Several members of the NBC Sports motorsports staff have made their predictions on who will win Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Of the six voters, two are going with 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden, while two others are going with Helio Castroneves to win a fourth 500, which would tie him with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Here’s our picks. Who are YOU picking?

Leigh Diffey: Helio Castroneves — He drives the place better than anyone else. For me (for what its worth) he deserves a fourth 500 ring for the frustration he went through never getting the IndyCar title!

Townsend Bell: Josef Newgarden

Nate Ryan: Simon Pagenaud — All of his 2018 misfortune on the track has disappeared in May, and it culminates in the biggest victory of his career.

Jerry Bonkowski: Helio Castroneves – There’s no pressure as he pursues his fourth Indy 500 win. All Helio has to do, as late NFL owner Al Davis would say, is “Just win, baby!” (But if Helio falls short, watch for Marco Andretti)

Kyle Lavigne: Josef Newgarden — I think he has everything he needs to get it done this year.

Dan Beaver: Robert Wickens – Has driven like anything except a rookie and his second-place finish at Phoenix proves he’s just as good on an oval as the road courses.

Follow: Jerry Bonkowski