Archive for Thursday, July 7, 2005

Danica did it all — except win

First ever female Indy-car victory will have to come elsewhere

July 7, 2005

Danica Patrick, the 23-year-old Indy Racing League starlet, and her Rahal Letterman Racing team did about everything they could heading into Sunday's Argent Mortgage Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway to secure a victory.

The speedway was buzzing throughout the weekend of racing as speculation oozed out everywhere over whether Kansas City, Kan., would be the place where Patrick would make racing history. Following strong finishes in Japan and at the Indianapolis 500, Patrick entered the weekend hoping to become the first female driver to win a major open-wheel race.

From the moment she first hit the track in her No. 16 car, Patrick's chances looked promising. She quickly set the tone Saturday morning by reeling off the fastest lap in the first practice session and then maintained that momentum by posting the second-fastest time in the second round of practice.

Anticipation grew Saturday afternoon as the crowd of racing fans waited for Patrick to take her turn in qualifying for Sunday's main event. The stage was all but set for her. She drew the final qualifying spot and was able to take the track last. Prior to her two-lap qualifying attempt, her teammates Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira, last-year's first and second-place finishers at Kansas Speedway, had already posted the two quickest times. Only one driver had a chance to challenge for the top spot, and it was Patrick.

She did not disappoint, either. Her first of two laps was good enough for the second starting position, behind Rice, but she was not finished. To the delight of the Kansas crowd, she flew into pole position with a speed of 214.668 mph.

Although the pole position did not rewrite history books, because former series driver Sarah Fisher accomplished the feat in 2002, it was a start. Patrick said she was proud of the effort, which bested her previous top qualifying position of second and came in just her eighth IRL start.

"It feels very good," she said. "It feels very satisfying. I'm very proud of how hard the team has worked and how hard I have worked. I am just proud of the whole situation with the team, because no team wants anything more than their guys and gal to be all the way at the top."

Patrick credited the team for providing her with a fast ride and her and her teammates' drives that morning with laying the groundwork for the qualifying session.

"Qualifying really should be fairly straightforward," she said. "That's what you work so hard in the morning for -- so that you can just go out there and drive the car you know.

"We did our homework in the morning, all three of us, and, as you can see, it worked, it paid off and, you know, the car was good. I thought (the car was) little better that it was in the morning."

After Patrick claimed the pole, one of her teammates help put the achievement in context.

"I think it's great," Rice said. "I mean everybody comes to their first pole sooner or later and its great for her to be able to come here on an Argent-sponsored weekend to sit on the front. The first one is always a very memorable one so it's great for her to finally get that."

Although she led the field of 22 drivers to the green flag Sunday afternoon, Patrick failed to lead a single lap of the race. The car let Patrick down immediately and Rice was able to catch and pass her before the first lap was even complete.

"On the start I was completely flat on the power," Patrick said. "There was really nothing I could have done more. It's tough being out in front because you don't have the draft."

For much of the first half of the race, she ran in the middle of the pack.

However, as the laps wound down, Patrick made her charge. At lap 150, she was in 14th. By lap 160, she was in 10th. At lap 189, she was running in third place. Ultimately, that was as close as she came to the front. With only 10 laps and 15 miles to go, she entered the pits for a splash of fuel and lost ground to the leaders. Eventually, she settled for a disappointing ninth-place finish.

"As far as on the track, I felt like I had a really great car," Patrick said. "That's why I was so frustrated after it was over."

Although things looked promising early on in the weekend, Patrick left Kansas Speedway, just as she had come in -- still searching for IRL career victory No. 1.

The fact was not lost on the other series drivers.

"You guys that want to see Danica win: sorry, you have to wait until next time," eventual race winner Tony Kanaan said.

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