Patrick's third-place finish proves just how driven she actually is
Danica Patrick's third-place finish was her fourth Top 10 Indy finish
Helio Castroneves was the main act but "Dan and Danica" were impressive
Patrick has displayed all the required qualities to succeed at this level
INDIANAPOLIS -- While the motion picture that is Helio Castroneves' life has more sequels than the old "Rocky" movies, the back story to Sunday's 93rd Indianapolis 500 included the two stars of the 2005 race.
It was four years ago that a flamboyant, Englishman who looks and sounds like the Geico Gecko named Dan Wheldon drove to victory in the Indy 500 but his win was overshadowed by the emergence of a beautiful female who nearly won the race in her rookie year named Danica Patrick.
This year, Wheldon and Patrick once again engaged in battle late in the race with Wheldon getting the edge over his female nemesis but their story was overshadowed by Castroneves' victory of epic proportions.
To call Castroneves' latest triumph over adversity when he was tried in federal court for tax evasion only to be acquitted, return to racing and win the Indy 500 a Hollywood story has become cliché -- everyone loves a happy ending.
But, it has to be a big story if Patrick's third-place finish in the Indy 500 is overshadowed.
That is what happened Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Patrick and Wheldon played supporting roles on the biggest auto racing stage of the world to a race driver that once won ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
As former driver and current IndyCar team owner Jimmy Vasser once said, "Helio Castroneves is my favorite actor." By winning the Indy 500 for the third time in his career emphasizes Castroneves' ability to perform under extreme pressure.
Castroneves was the main act but the "Dan and Danica Show" was not only entertaining, it was impressive.
After driving for one of the best teams in IndyCar at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing since 2006, Wheldon's act had grown old and when team owner Chip Ganassi tried to lure Tony Kanaan to the team last summer, Wheldon knew it was time to hit the road. So he returned to the team where his IndyCar Series career started in 2002 at Panther Racing.
By finishing 1.9819-seconds behind Castroneves, Wheldon came close to winning his second Indy 500 in a car that was camouflaged for his sponsor, The National Guard.
As for Patrick, her drive to a third-place finish at Indy was probably more impressive than her victory at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in 2008, when she became the first female driver to win in a major, closed course racing series.
Patrick is IndyCar's most popular and most controversial driver. She transcends the sport and is a mainstream cultural phenomenon. But for all the fans that love Patrick, there is a portion that believes she is overhyped; that she doesn't deserve all the attention that she gets.
So far this season, however, Patrick has been rock-solid. She was competitive in the season-opening race at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg before she was taken out when rookie Raphael Matos tried to pass her on a portion of the track where passing is virtually impossible.
She battled back to finish fourth in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and fifth in the season's first oval race at Kansas Speedway on April 26.
When she arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the month of May, she had hopes of starting up front but admitted that Team Penske and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing were just a step ahead of her Andretti Green Racing team. That was evident on Pole Day when Patrick qualified 10th and dropped off the radar while almost everyone tuned in to the Castroneves' Soap Opera.
But it's called the Indianapolis 500 for a reason -- it's 500 miles of the fiercest racing on the planet, where speeds exceed 235 miles per hour down the long straightaways of the track that is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009.
It takes bravery, fearlessness and determination and Patrick has all those qualities in abundance.
And she drove with intelligence and patience, picking her way through traffic until she was in the top three with 17 laps left in the biggest race in the world.
She went after Wheldon like a Pit Bull but could only get side-by-side, unable to get enough speed to pass the English Bull Dog.
"I felt like I had a pretty good run on Dan, and he went low and I wish I would have went low before he got low, because if it was side by side going into the corner with me on the inside, it would have worked," Patrick said. "But when you're side by side going into one here, it's not likely because I wasn't sure if they had a chance to clean the top line into one (from tire rubber) it's just got a good idea."
Throughout the month, Patrick liked to tell about the fortune cookie she had when she was in Kansas City in April that said, "A four-wheeled adventure will soon bring you pleasure." She was hoping it meant victory at Indy.
Instead, it meant a third-place finish.
"How many times do you get a fortune cookie tell you a four-wheel adventure is going to bring you happiness?" Patrick said. "Why would they even write that? Who has four-wheel adventures, I guess on a four-wheeler, but how great could that be?
"I think it was a good day. I'm really happy. I wish it would have ended up a little bit better than what it did, but that's the way it goes here, and that's what makes this place so awesome and frustrating.
"The cookie crumbled to third."
Patrick and Wheldon knew they had one chance to get to the front when the green flag waved for the final time with 17 laps left in the race. But when they went side-by-side, it allowed Castroneves to drive away to his "Hollywood Finish" but the "Dan and Danica Show" may be a ratings grabber in the future.