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Posted: Monday May 25, 2009 12:46AM; Updated: Monday May 25, 2009 1:16AM
Bruce Martin Bruce Martin >
INSIDE RACING

Danica proves she's driven (cont.)

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Best finishes by women in the Indy 500
Year Driver Fin Laps
2009 Danica Patrick 3 200
2005 Danica Patrick 4 200
2006 Danica Patrick 8 200
2007 Danica Patrick 8 166
1978 Janet Guthrie 9 190
1992 Lyn St. James 11 193
1997 Lyn St. James 13 186
1996 Lyn St. James 14 153
2009 Sarah Fisher 17 200
2007 Sarah Fisher 18 164
1994 Lyn St. James 19 170
2008 Milka Duno 19 185
By The Associated Press

"She is certainly a tough competitor," Wheldon said of Patrick. "I think she's like a lot of those troops, she never gives up so all credit to Danica. But I have to say I'm incredibly proud of the Panther Racing National Guard Team and my IndyCar career there's not many races where I've honestly left the track feeling that we've executed everything perfectly.

"I have to say, I thought they did an absolute phenomenal job. The pit stops were just first class. I didn't have to do too much work on track because they kept making me spots up. It was one of those things at the end where I just didn't have enough for Helio. I was towards the end having to hold off Danica. But they should be incredibly proud of the job they did."

For many drivers, a third-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 would be a tremendous finish but Patrick answered questions and admitted that while it was a good finish, she fell short of her ultimate goal.

"My job is to finish as high as possible and get as many wins as possible," she said. "I'm glad that I'm not like, `Oh, my God, wow, third.'

"I'm paid to do this job, so I wish it could have been a little bit better but it was a good day overall, and it was for the tough month that we had and just how we had to keep our heads down so much of the time, it ended up turning out pretty well.

"I'm glad that people are seeing it more like just a good finish from a good driver."

Make that two good finishes from two great drivers. Wheldon has already experienced victory in the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series title in 2005.

And Patrick continues to improve, which may one day silence the critics that think she only gets the attention because of the way she looks; not the way she drives.

Wheldon and Patrick have a past history.

These two once nearly squared off after an incident at Milwaukee in 2007 after Patrick believes she was run off the race track by Wheldon while trying to pass him on the flat one-mile oval. After that race, she confronted Wheldon and as he walked away, grabbed him by the arm and spun him around.

"She can get feisty every now and then, but so can I," Wheldon said. "I've always thought that she can do the job. I don't treat her like a female on the racetrack. She is just a formidable competitor that doesn't give up. I wish she perhaps would have today because I was sweating with how loose I was because I didn't turn the car.

"But she's an IndyCar winner and to win IndyCar races nowadays is incredibly difficult, and anybody that's an IndyCar winner in my book, it doesn't matter what they look like, what their gender is, they are somebody I'll respect immensely."

And it's time that even Patrick's critics recognize that fact that she is the most competitive female driver in IndyCar racing history. They may not like the self-created drama she brings to track but she is developing into a driver who can step up and deliver, even on a stage as big as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Indy Rules The Day

Because the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway was rained out, the 93rd Indianapolis 500 ruled the day without any interference from another race in the United States. Of course, the Grand Prix of Monaco was held earlier in the morning with Jensen Button driving to another victory in his phenomenal season.

Even in spite of the terrible economic climate in the United States, the massive Indianapolis Motor Speedway was probably 90 percent full. The most noticeable patches of empty seats were the so-called "bad seats" that are low in the grandstands.

But to attract over 250,000 fans in today's economy only shows how big the Indianapolis 500 really is. It is one of the world's great sporting events and Helio Castroneves delivered with a tremendous story.

NASCAR will get a chance to run on Memorial Day because of the rainout. It was actually kind of nice that the "World's Biggest Race" didn't have to share the spotlight with the 600.

Personally, I think it would be great if Indy was held on Sunday and the Coca-Cola 600 run on Saturday night or Monday afternoon. For those who think that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway should change its time or date so NASCAR drivers can compete at Indy, remember one thing -- "The Masters" doesn't bow to television or outside pressures.

Neither should the Indianapolis 500.

This race is auto racing's version of "The Masters" and if fans want NASCAR drivers to do the double, then maybe the 600 should consider a time change or a date change.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrated its 100th Birthday this year. Lowe's Motor Speedway is celebrating its 50th.

It's time to "respect your elders."

What Was That Guy Thinking?

When Helio Castroneves won the Indianapolis 500, he pulled down the frontstraight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he was met by three IndyCar Series officials in yellow firesuits. They were ordering him to drive to victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and prohibited him from climbing the fence.

Thankfully, Castroneves did not heed their warning and gave the huge throng of fans that cheered his victory at the Speedway a memorable celebration by climbing the fence with his crew in his trademark "Spiderman" celebration.

"I was going over there and they were like, "You've got to go to the Victory Lane." And this yellow guy kind of like pulled me in," Castroneves said. "I said, `I want to get out, and he's like, `No, you've got to stay here.' I was trying to take the stuff and he was literally holding my helmet and myself there. Finally I saw the team come and I said, `I'm sorry, I want I've got to get out.' I wanted to go and climb the fence.

What were they thinking? Castroneves' victory is one of the greatest stories in recent auto racing history and the drivers' unabashed emotion was something to cherish.

NASCAR lives for moments like that -- when a driver is able to celebrate with a trademark burnout or by driving around the race track backwards.

On a day when the Indianapolis 500 returned to glory, IndyCar series officials trying to keep Castroneves from climbing the fence was the only blemish of the day.

Picture Of The Day

Helio Castroneves crying uncontrollably with his bottle of milk in victory lane while being hugged by his mother.

Young Drivers War Of Words After First-Lap Crash

At 20 years old, Mario Moraes of Brazil was considered a dark horse in the Indy 500. At 22, Marco Andretti was trying to become the youngest winner in Indy 500 history while he was still young enough.

Instead, the two drivers crashed in the first turn of the first lap and then engaged in a war of words afterwards.

"I'm really upset with what happened," Moraes said. "I don't know what Marco was doing there. That lap was the first. Just the first corner he was outside. I don't know if he knew, but this was the 500 miles race. I don't know if there was any point in what he did.

"Unfortunately, my spotter didn't tell me that he was looking outside, and I was just driving my line and when I realized, I was in the wall."

Andretti continued the family tradition of "An Andretti never makes a mistake."

"It's totally disappointing," Marco Andretti said. "I should have been smarter than that. That kid (Moraes) is in way over his head with where he is now. I'm sitting next to him, and he just drives up into me. There was no one in sight of him. I should have known better."

Quote Of The Week

"Hey, if we keep doing what we're doing, it's going to be a big book. I'm probably not going to read it, but it's going to be a big one, too much." -- Helio Castroneves after the Indianapolis 500 and the next chapter to his dramatic story.

Quote Of The Week II - The "Memorable Television Call" Edition

"Five weeks ago, Helio Castroneves was staring at jail -- an Orange Suit not a Race Suit. Now, he's a three-time winner of the biggest race in the world." -- ABC's Marty Reid calling the final lap of the Indianapolis 500.

Quote Of The Week III - The "Stand By Your Driver" Edition

"I had so much faith that Helio hadn't done anything wrong. I couldn't understand why he was guilty before he had the trial. That's all I saw, every piece of publicity that came out of Miami was he was guilty, and the way they treated him initially was deplorable. We just said, `Hey, we're with you.' The good news is Helio, myself, his family, we never had to get the other side of the answer -- the final answer was exactly what we thought it would be." -- Roger Penske after winning his record 15th Indianapolis 500 as a team owner and his decision to support Helio Castroneves during his tax evasion trial.

What I'm Looking Forward To This Week

The biggest race of the year is over and the Indianapolis 500 has lived up to its status as the world's biggest race yet again. But now it's a time to return to normalcy and for the IndyCar Series, it's a trip to the Milwaukee Mile. It's short track racing IndyCar style at a track six-years older than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As Paul Newman said in the 1969 motion picture "Winning" -- "Everyone goes to Milwaukee after Indy."

While the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is nicknamed "The Brickyard" the Milwaukee Mile is "The Bratyard." No trip to Wisconsin is complete without one, two or even more bratwursts. I'm gaining five pounds just thinking about it.

 
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