Calmer, cooler Danica finishes strong at Indy

May, 24, 2009
INDIANAPOLIS -- If Danica Patrick is serious about the possibility of making the move to NASCAR, she didn't hurt her chances Sunday at the Brickyard.

This was the new calm and cool Patrick on her way to a career-best Indy 500, finishing third and running near the front all day.

Before the final restart with 17 laps to go, Patrick seemed convinced she could win when she talked on the radio to team owner and mentor Michael Andretti.

"I'm ready," she said. "It's getting really fun up here. The car feels really good. I'm happy."

Patrick made a run on Dan Wheldon after the restart but couldn't get by. And neither of them had anything for Helio Castroneves, who was zooming to an emotional victory.

"I had a really good car on long runs, so I wish we could have gone green those last 35 laps," Patrick said. "What are you gonna do?

"The car really came to me at the end. I was able to run flat all the way around, which didn't happen much in practice. I'm glad we had a good result."

One reason for the strong showing was Patrick's calm demeanor. She controlled her emotions better than she ever had in the past for this race.

At one point she lost four spots on pit road (sixth to 10th) by overshooting her stall.

"I'm really sorry, guys," she said as the left the pits. "That was all my fault."

Patrick did show a bit of frustration once, but she had a legitimate reason. She told her crew that Ryan Briscoe had jumped a restart to move ahead of her.

She blamed Briscoe last year at Indy for a bumping incident on pit road that ended her day.

Race officials agreed with her complaint this time, forcing Briscoe to let Patrick move in front of him.

Patrick was methodical and patient all day, a newfound approach that she attributes to former Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. She went to Unser a few days ago and asked him what she needed to do to win at Indy.

He told her to make sure in the first half of the race she was there in the last half. "Test your car," he said. "And be steady. Show poise in the cockpit."

Patrick followed Unser's advice. No doubt it was noticed by interested parties, which might include a few NASCAR team owners.

Patrick is in the last year of her contact with Andretti Green Racing. She said she is open to considering NASCAR, but some people believe it's only a negotiation ploy.

Maybe, maybe not. Patrick recently signed with IMG, one of the most powerful marketing firms in sports. IMG reportedly is shopping her around to NASCAR teams and sponsors to gauge the interest in moving to NASCAR.

Every time she finishes near the front in an IndyCar Series event, the NASCAR whispers increase.

Most open-wheel racers haven't fared well lately in NASCAR, but Patrick wouldn't make the move unless it was to a top-tier team and a competitive ride.

And NASCAR could use her star power, especially if Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to struggle.

So say tuned. Patrick's strong showing at Indy on Sunday means even more NASCAR rumors are on the way.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer



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