INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Vitor Meira will need some time to recover from the Indianapolis 500.

The 2008 runner-up survived a dangerous fire in the pits and later broke two vertebrae in his lower back during a frightening crash in Sunday’s race. IndyCar officials said he will spend the next two days at Methodist Hospital, where doctors plan to fit him for a back brace. He does not need surgery.

“It was just an unfortunate incident,” rookie Raphael Matos said after colliding with Meira. “We had a good car, and the team had worked so hard. It was just unfortunate to end like that.”

The Meira-Matos incident was the most serious crash on a day full of them.

In all, 10 cars went out of the race in accidents, and an 11th, Marco Andretti’s No. 26, eventually left because of handling problems after returning from an earlier crash.

In the closing laps, Meira and Matos were running side-by-side heading into the first turn when the two locked wheels. Matos hit the SAFER barrier and stopped in the middle of the track, resulting in a bruised right knee.

Meira, by far, got the worst of it. His car slid along the wall – two wheels on the ground and two wheels above the concrete wall – before finally flipping over on four wheels and stopping.

And that was after the car was engulfed in flames on pit road.

The tone of the day was set early when 22-year-old Marco Andretti and 20-year-old Mario Moraes didn’t even make it through the first turn before making contact. Graham Rahal, also 20, crashed on lap 56.

Each of the youngsters blamed someone else for the crashes.

“I should have been smarter than that,” Andretti said. “That kid (Moraes) is in way over his head with where he is now. I’m sitting next to him, and he just drives up into me. There was no one in sight of him.”

Andretti’s teammate, Tony Kanaan, one of the pre-race favorites, limped away after twice hitting the wall hard when his rear suspension broke just before the midway point. He had been running third at the time.

But the wrecks crossed all demographics.

Davey Hamilton, the oldest starter at 46, crashed on lap 83. Justin Wilson, 30, and Nelson Philippe, a Champ Car veteran and Indy rookie, both crashed, too, and Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie Robert Doornbos also left after contact.

NOT ENOUGH: Former Indy winner Dan Wheldon didn’t quite have enough to join the two-time winner club.

Although he finished second, moving up 14 spots from his qualifying position, Wheldon acknowledged he was too busy trying to hold off Danica Patrick for third to chase down Helio Castroneves for the win.

“I’m incredibly excited,” the 2005 winner said. “I have to say there have not been many races where the team has executed 100 percent, and they did it today.”

With Patrick closing in at the end and Castroneves pulling away for a 1.98-second win, Wheldon simply didn’t have enough to catch him.

“It would be more frustrating if I had something for Helio, but I really didn’t,” he said. “To be honest with you, he was incredibly strong at the end.”

FAST MOVER: A week ago, Alex Tagliani didn’t even think he’d be in the race.

On Sunday, after starting from the last spot, No. 33, he finished 11th – the biggest mover of the day.

Tagliani was bumped out of the starting field on the last qualifying run of the month last week and only got back in when team owner Eric Bachelart put him into the No. 36 car Bruno Junqueira qualified.

The 36-year-old Canadian couldn’t have asked for a better result.

“Our day was pretty simple: We just tried to make no mistakes and stay out of trouble and continue to make up ground toward the front,” he said. “We also tried not to make any mistakes in the pits, and that’s exactly what we did.”

TRACY’S TOP 10: This time there was no debate about the winner; nor was there any question about Paul Tracy’s ability to drive competitively.

Tracy made his first start of the season Sunday and moved up from the 13th to ninth, a solid performance though not as good as the top-five Tracy wanted.

“I hoped I showed everyone I’m capable of doing this,” he said. “We’ve got two more races in Canada, and hopefully we get another chance at it.”

Tracy finished second in a disputed finish during his last Indy appearance in 2002. He lost his appeal and Helio Castroneves finally was declared the winner in July 2002.

FISHER IMPROVING: Sarah Fisher broke one record by starting her eighth Indy 500, the most of any woman.

Her fledgling team also produced a career-best effort. Fisher, who started 21st, finished 17th – her best Indy finish.

“It was consistent. We have a lot to learn,” she said. “We showed we can be in the game. We just need to do a little bit more homework.”

Last year, Fisher spent most of May looking for money. This year, she came with a solid sponsor in Dollar General, and it paid off with a far better performance than the 30th she had in 2008.

Fisher is running a limited schedule this season, with four races remaining.

The difference between this year and last?

“We’re coming away not crying, but smiling,” she said.

KING’S EXIT: Richard Petty said he planned to stay as long as his driver John Andretti was in the race.

It didn’t work out that way.

Petty, who had obligations with his NASCAR team Sunday night in Charlotte, N.C., took off around 2 p.m. Andretti, who struggled to make the race, finished 19th.

Still, Petty enjoyed his first race day as an IndyCar owner.

“It’s interesting with all the excitement and stuff around here,” Petty said before the race. “I’ve been around stock cars all my life, and you don’t always see the excitement on TV. But when you’re here, it’s really exciting, really fun.”

SPARK PLUGS: Meira wasn’t the only driver having trouble on pit road. Wilson locked up his car, spinning as he tried to come out and forcing other cars to narrowly escape collisions. … The start of the race was waved off when the cars lined up improperly. They had to come back around and line up a second time. … David Janquart, chief mechanic for Petty’s No. 43 car, received a $5,000 check for winning the Clint Brawner mechanical excellence award. … Anna Chatten became the first crew member to go over the pit wall Sunday. She worked on Milka Duno’s crew.

AP-ES-05-24-09 2039EDT

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