Danica begins her IndyCar farewell tour (cont.)
And then young Henry Freeman steps up in line to steal the show. The precocious 4-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., wins Patrick over with his cuteness. He engages Patrick in conversation and proudly holds up the spotter's chart that has all the cars on it, proudly pointing to Patrick's No. 7 GoDaddy car. Freeman's father tells Patrick, "Every time Henry sees your car drive by he waves at you."
Freeman, who was among the last in the autograph line to meet Patrick, makes her day.
"The kids are the best," she said. "They make it all worth it. He knew my car and when his dad told me that he waves at me every time I drive by that was nice."
1:30 p.m. -- After the autograph session ended, Patrick hopped on her scooter and drove back to the transporter. She popped out 15 minutes later to run up to Andretti Hospitality for a quick lunch. At 2:22 p.m. she puts her hair back in a ponytail, zips up her firesuit and puts on her helmet as her car warms up. Eleven minutes later, she climbs in her car. The engine starts up at 2:43 and one minute later she leaves her pit
It's time to qualify.
For Patrick, however, her weekend is not a good one on the track. She is slow and slower, qualifying 25th out of 28 cars. She is outqualified by Ho-Pin Tung, a driver from China who made his first IndyCar start over the weekend.
At the end of her session she climbs out of her race car with a pissed off look on her face. She knows she is slow and doesn't like it. She dejectedly looks at the scoring monitor, puts on her sunglasses and watch and stalks back to the transporter in the paddock.
Despite her performance, however, she remains gracious enough to again sign autographs for her fans, many of who wait patiently just for a glimpse of racing's GoDaddy girl.
Away from the track, Patrick and her husband attend a sponsor/team dinner at Andretti Winery in Napa until 9 p.m. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for race day.
9:45 a.m. -- With the heavy marine layer of fog yet to lift, IndyCar's "Morning Warmup" session is grounded. It was set to begin at 9 a.m., but instead all the cars sit silent on pit road and Patrick is sitting on the pit wall talking to one of her crew members, Lenny Gucci.
"We're just killing time," she said.
During the delay she walks up to the next pit to talk to some members of another team who asked her about her Nationwide Series race at Montreal last weekend.
"I love Montreal," she said. "It's a good track to pass on. I loved it from my days racing in Atlantics and it is just as fun in a stock car."
The fog finally lifts and at 10:07 a.m. IndyCar officials announce the warmup is about to begin. Patrick zips up her firesuit and climbs into the race car for the final practice session before Sunday's race. When she pulls back into her pit area at 10:46 a.m. the reality once again is that she is 27th out of 28 cars.
Despite her frustration, Patrick has agreed to do a promotion for the track where a number of fans purchased tickets to attend a question-and-answer session with her. It had been delayed because of the weather delay in warmup. A golf cart on pit lane awaits Patrick, who is whisked away to the session.
Once there, Patrick jumps up on stage to the cheers of several thousand fans but she is admittedly a little feisty.
"I didn't get many laps," Patrick said. "That doesn't mean we won't have a good day. You guys caught me fresh out of the car one minute ago. You're probably not going to get the most positive thing. You guys know me well that when things don't go well I can get a little bit fiery."
One of the fans asked Patrick about moving to NASCAR and she shoots back, "I kinda think I'm getting put on the spot here because we're racing IndyCars today. But I really like those cars and I enjoy bumping."
Woodward, the "Danica Tattoo Guy," is back standing in the front row with a floral arrangement to give to the driver. She is so focused and rushed she doesn't notice.
The Q&A ends in seven minutes and it's back on the golf cart to the transporter. There, she is met by Brooklyn Bartelme, a pretty 8-year-old girl from Cameron Park, Calif. She is holding a photo of herself posing with Patrick that was shot last year.
"I really like her," the young girl says. "Yay, Daddy, we finally got her [autograph]."
I ask her father, John, if they will be watching Patrick when she races in NASCAR?
"Nah," he said. "We're not NASCAR fans."
11 a.m. -- After the Q&A Patrick talks to a few friends along the side of the transporter and then she ducks back in for a few moments of solitude. She is late to the drivers' meeting at 11:30 a.m. so she has to sit in the back, and then she attends a meet and greet at Andretti Autosport Hospitality at noon.
"I'm not sure we are perfecting the art of road racing today," Patrick told the crowd.
At 12:19 she hops on her scooter and leaves hospitality. Thirty minutes later as she leaves the transporter she looks over and quips, "Are you bored following me around yet?"
At 1:01 p.m. Patrick is prepared to walk out to the grid but stops to sign autographs as several hundred fans are outside her transporter waiting for a chance to meet their hero.
She gets a high-five from a little girl. Then, an older fan says, "Danica, we're sure happy to see you in NASCAR."
Patrick walks out to the starting grid and says, "There is never enough time on a race weekend, Bruce, but that's a good thing."
She stands behind the Driver Introduction Stage and gets a hug from fellow driver Oriol Servia of Spain.
"I'm really going to miss you," Servia said.
She is greeted by cheers when she is introduced, then climbs into the back of a pickup truck where she and fellow driver Charlie Kimball take a lap around the racecourse as part of pre-race driver introductions. When she arrives at her car she engages in some pre-race banter with representatives from GoDaddy and then stands behind her husband during the invocation and National Anthem.
She climbs into the car, straps in and fires it up when the command is given to start engines. Seventy-five laps later, Patrick crossed the finish line in 21st place.
Will Power is the winner and while Team Penske is celebrating its first 1-2-3 finish in IndyCar since 1994, Patrick shakes her head as she talks to Klotz. She then heads back to the transporter.
"I don't care -- I'll be back here in a stock car," Patrick said. "I have good memories of this track. I've run well here before. But oh my God, the car was so loose. It was such a loose race car today."
Even in defeat, she stops to sign autographs for her adoring fans still posing for pictures.
"I appreciate this, guys," she tells her fans.
"After a day like today I'm just glad people are still cheering for me," she said a few moments later. "That's the great thing about fans; they really understand when you have a tough day and they don't even care. I feel lucky they keep cheering for me. It means a lot for me when they are still cheering for me and I'm running 21st."
There are four more races left in Patrick's IndyCar career. She will leave the series after the season finale at Las Vegas on Oct. 16. But as Patrick was about to go on with the rest of her night, she was asked what she was going to do?
"I get so dehydrated at these races I don't think I will be drinking any wine tonight, but I will have a beer," she said. "How NASCAR of me."
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