- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — After spending much of the afternoon giving her own mechanics an earful, a late crash left Danica Patrick looking like she was ready to fight another driver’s pit crew.

Patrick already was having a disappointing day in yesterday’s Indianapolis 500 when driver Ryan Briscoe ran into her on pit road late in the race, causing her car to rumble to a halt at the end of pit road.

A furious Patrick then got out and purposefully strode toward Briscoe’s pit for what was shaping up as a confrontation with his crew. But track security personnel intervened and directed her back to her own pit area.

With that, all the hype and momentum Patrick carried into the race didn’t mean a thing. Even before the crash, Patrick had spent much of the race complaining about her car.

“I am slow!” Patrick protested over her in-car radio with about 60 laps left. “I am [darn] slow!”

Patrick made the leap to legitimacy with an IndyCar series victory earlier this season, but she will have to wait a year for another shot at Indianapolis 500 stardom.

Patrick’s complaints about her car started early, and her crew made a wing adjustment intended to give her car more top-end speed. That helped boost her to eighth place at the race’s halfway point.

But Patrick struggled to hang on to her position from there and was warned by Indy Racing League officials not to weave back and forth to keep Helio Castroneves from passing her with 80 laps left in the race.

Then she launched into her team again for giving her a car that just wasn’t fast enough but seemed to disprove her own point when she climbed to sixth on a restart. Then the crash ended her day.

Patrick, who already was making a name for herself with a combination of good looks and aggressive driving, finally broke through with a victory in an IndyCar series race in Japan earlier this year — making her the first female driver to win a major open-wheel race.

The victory earned Patrick an overwhelming amount of media attention heading into the biggest race of the year. Winning Indy could have catapulted Patrick even further into mainstream sports stardom — and helped the IndyCar series in its ongoing attempts to steal fan attention back from NASCAR.

But she needed speed, and her team simply couldn’t find enough of it.

Patrick wasn’t considered a favorite going into yesterday’s race, despite all the attention and momentum. She qualified fifth but didn’t seem to have the speed to match the Ganassi team cars driven by Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon in practice this month.

And yesterday, Patrick’s car couldn’t quite keep up with those driven by her Andretti-Green Racing teammates, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti.

But Patrick didn’t have nearly as bad a day as fellow female driver Sarah Fisher.

Fisher, who has struggled to secure firm financial commitments from sponsors all month, had trouble getting her car started before the race, spun out early on, then ran into Tony Kanaan just past the race’s halfway point.

In a television interview after the crash, Kanaan said he felt badly for Fisher.

“I feel so sorry for her,” Kanaan said. “I drove back in the ambulance with her, and she was just crying so much. She put so much into it, and I just feel bad for her. She apologized to me, and I should be the one apologizing to her.”

Milka Duno, the third female driver in the race, spun out in the race’s closing laps.

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