Patrick cruises into Indy field; Fisher, Duno wait

INDIANAPOLIS -- Three women are entered to race in the Indianapolis 500, but on Pole Day you never would have known it.

Third-year driver Danica Patrick put her Andretti Green Racing entry safely into the field of 33, while Sarah Fisher and rookie Milka Duno did not make qualifying attempts. Fisher will run Sunday while Duno, after a practice accident Friday, must wait for next weekend for her first try at the four-lap pressure cooker of Indy qualifying.

Fisher drove 12 laps in her Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara-Honda on Saturday morning in pre-qualifying practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but an undisclosed mechanical failure put her in the garage for the rest of the day.

"It wasn't a speed-related issue, that's all I can say," said Fisher, who would have had an outside shot at the top 11 in Saturday's qualifying format. "We didn't know that we were done for the day -- there was a possibility of getting it fixed, but [we] ran out of time."

Fisher felt better about her plight after watching teammate Buddy Rice, who made the day's first qualifying attempt just past noon. His four-lap average of 221.766 mph was 1 mph behind Michael Andretti's 11th-place qualifying speed, and Fisher figured it was a sign that she also may have come up short.

"Buddy and I are really similar -- our cars are similar, we're similar in driving style, everything's so close. The speed he runs is pretty much the speed we're expecting the 5 car to run, too, or it's going to be very close," the five-time Indy 500 starter said. "His runs were 221-ish, so they didn't take a run at it again.

"So it's not that big a stressful issue that we didn't get to run. We didn't have a car that was going to go run for the pole. It's not a huge deal."

Patrick, meanwhile, did have a car capable of the front row, with practice speeds during the week near the top of the speed charts. She settled for the middle of the third row (No. 8 spot), completing four laps at 224.076 mph after an early-day qualifying attempt.

"I think for me it was a pretty average run; I don't think we hit it perfectly," said Patrick, who qualified fourth and eighth in two previous 500s. "I was hoping for the high 224s, but it was pretty much a 224 flat. There were some handling issues that definitely contributed to it."

Having posted her number less than hour into qualifying, she had five hours to consider another run. Under Indianapolis' unique qualifying format, she could have taken two more attempts to better her position but left that to AGR teammate Tony Kanaan, who improved his standing from sixth to second.

"It's not a straightforward qualifying day, but there isn't a lot that is straightforward about Indianapolis," she said. "For myself, I would have loved to go out. I practiced after my qualifying, and every one of my laps was faster than my qualifying run. [But] it was going to take a good chunk of time to get up into the thick of things because there was a lot of people right a the 225.0 and 225.1 [mph] range."

As for Duno, she'll have to wait until Wednesday to return to the track. She crashed her Samax Motorsports car Friday in practice, and it will not be ready to run again until Wednesday.

Even with a drivable car it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the Venezuelan sit out Saturday's qualifying; her top speed of 219.830 mph during the week would not have come close to the top 11. But she also will miss Sunday's qualifying for the middle 11 positions, which would have been an outside possibility.

"I have to adjust to the situation. We're preparing for Wednesday," Duno said. "They'll know that I go qualify next weekend."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.