Second place a big finish for Danica

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- It wasn't a win, but Danica Patrick came away satisfied with a hard-earned second-place finish Saturday in the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Although Scott Dixon won the race, Patrick did emerge victorious from an intense duel over the last 20 laps with her Andretti Autosport teammate, former Izod IndyCar Series champion -- and local favorite -- Tony Kanaan.

A series of full-course cautions eliminated fuel mileage as a strategy, and Patrick and Kanaan were able to go at it full force during the final green-flag stint.

Kanaan initially held the advantage, and the Brazilian forcefully slammed the door on Patrick's high-side passing attempts. But as the race neared its conclusion, Danica was able to run faster than Kanaan on the low line and was finally able to make a move stick on the 200th and final lap.

"We've had our times together this year … at Indy and Texas and Iowa," Patrick said of Kanaan, the veteran No. 1 driver at Andretti Autosport. "This has not been a great year for teammates getting along and being buddy-buddy and he definitely raced me hard here tonight.

"But the point is that I beat him and that's all that really matters."

Will Power, who finished second in the IndyCar championship, crossed paths with Patrick on the way to postrace interviews and after praising her drive, quipped, "Looked like Tony was being a good teammate to you!"

Patrick and Kanaan appeared to touch wheels exiting Turn 4 on one lap during the most heated portion of their battle.

Recounting her pass of Kanaan, Patrick said: "I made him struggle at the end. I held him down low, kept the fronts on, cut across him right in the middle of the corner and got inside him. I needed to get inside of him.

"Coming around [Turns] 3 and 4 down low, I just didn't lift. I pushed up and just kept my foot in it and said, 'Bleep it, this is what the rest of them do.'"

Patrick's dogged pursuit of her teammate in the closing laps laid down a marker in several respects. It showed once and for all that she can go wheel-to-wheel with championship-caliber drivers in the IndyCar Series.

It also showed she's intent on moving up the pecking order within the Andretti team. Despite finishing 10th in the IndyCar Series championship (down from a career-best fifth a year ago), Patrick closed the season strongly with solid performances in three of the four oval races that rounded out the IndyCar slate.

"I think the end of that race was definitely my best oval racing," she said. "It was fast and keep your foot-in-it and ride out the washouts and be calculated at the same time. You had to keep your foot in it, but had to be smart as well.

"Texas [where Patrick also finished second in an IndyCar race this year] was a good race from top to bottom," she said. "I was strong all weekend, ran in the top five all race, and managed my car real well. But I also managed my car in the last 19 laps tonight and that allowed me to pass [Kanaan] in the end."

Patrick struggled badly at many road racing venues this year, but by the end of the season, her return to form on ovals began to quiet critics who doubted her ability to balance running full time in the IndyCar Series with learning the ropes of the NASCAR Nationwide Series on a part-time basis.

Danica's best finish in the Nationwide Series this year is 24th place.

"It has been a tough year," Patrick said. "It's been very frustrating. It seems like a second or a 20th this year, and it's very frustrating.
But we kept focused and revised things as we went on. We adapted, as well. It's what you need to do as a team.

"The engineers and mechanics kept their confidence in me and did a fantastic job. These last two races of the season at Motegi and here were a great way to end the season. We had our shining moments and this was one of them. Hopefully we can do that next year more often."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.