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Winning Hasn't Been Easy For Danica Patrick

Source: LA Times
By Jim Peltz
May 23, 2009
Reporting from Indianapolis -- Danica Patrick's ability to market herself is without question. But can she win another race?

Patrick will make her fifth attempt Sunday to win her sport's biggest prize, the Indianapolis 500, the race that rocketed her to stardom when she led and nearly won it in 2005, her rookie year.

Patrick starts 10th in the 33-car field this year in her No. 7 car prepared by Andretti Green Racing.

But getting to the front won't be easy. The 1-2 starters, pole-sitter Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, drive for powerhouse Team Penske, which has 14 Indy 500 wins.

Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 winner who won the pole with an average speed of 224.864 mph, also was the fastest driver in Friday's final practice -- so-called "carb day," a throwback term from when teams used the last practice to fine-tune the cars' carburetors for race day. (They use fuel-injection engines now.)

And the IndyCar Series' other leading team, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, has 2007 Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti starting third and defending Indy 500 winner and series champion Scott Dixon starting fifth.

"I have been fortunate enough to be close to winning this race in the past, and I hope this year is no different," Patrick said.

"I'm really excited but on the other hand nervous. There is so much history behind this race, and it's the race that everyone wants to win."

After nearly winning four years ago, "Danica" quickly joined the likes of Kobe (Bryant) and Tiger (Woods) in becoming one of the most popular single-name figures in sports.

With her good looks and media-savvy personality, the Illinois native posed in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and for other magazines, became a familiar spokeswoman for her sponsors and soon drew the biggest crowds among IndyCar drivers.

Winning, though, has come less easily.

Patrick became the first woman to win a major U.S.-sanctioned open-wheel series race a year ago at Motegi, Japan, when a late-race fuel-mileage gamble paid off.

Otherwise, Patrick has only three top-three finishes -- all in 2007 -- in her other 66 career starts. She finished 22nd in last year's Indy 500 after colliding with Briscoe coming out of the pits.

Patrick was 23rd fastest in the final practice Friday.

Here's the outlook for some other drivers in the race:

Graham Rahal: The son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal became the youngest winner (at 19) of a series race in April 2008, at St. Petersburg, Fla. He started 13th in last year's Indy 500 but hit the wall on lap 37 and finished last.

This year, Rahal, who drives for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, has been fast at Indy all May and qualified fourth.

Will Power: The third driver for Team Penske was hired just before the season because of Castroneves' tax-evasion trial and, after Castroneves was acquitted, Power stayed with the car for the Indy 500.

(The Miami jury that acquitted Castroneves failed to agree on one last conspiracy charge, resulting in a mistrial on that count. Federal prosecutors said Friday they dropped that charge.)

Power, 29, qualified ninth and also was second-quickest in Friday's practice.

But Power's strength has been curvy road courses; whether he can win a 200-lap race on Indy's 2.5-mile rectangular layout is debatable.

Paul Tracy: The veteran racer starts 13th for the team KV Racing Technology and hopes to erase the memory of his 2002 finish here.

One lap from the end, Tracy passed Castroneves for the lead, but a crash elsewhere on the track brought out the caution that froze the field. Race officials ruled Tracy hadn't completed the pass before the caution, declaring Castroneves the winner and Tracy second.

Sarah Fisher: The Ohio native, who owns her own team, will start 21st in her eighth start in the 500. Her best finish was 18th in 2007.

Townsend Bell: The San Luis Obispo driver makes his third Indy 500 start in another KV Racing car. He finished a career-best 10th last year.

John Andretti: Making his 10th career start in an Indy 500, Andretti is driving a car entered by seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty that carries the No. 43 and the red and blue colors of Petty's famed stock car. Andretti's best finish at Indy was fifth in 1991.
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