LEBANON, Tenn. – During a weeklong tidal wave of media reports and 'advice' regarding her future and the buzz about her ESPY Awards stage presence, Danica Patrick had to prepare for an IndyCar Series race on a challenging oval.
dpatrick100It's been a challenging season overall for Patrick, the 2005 Bombardier Rookie of the Year who set talking heads wagging with a fourth-place finish at the 89th Indianapolis 500. Four top-10 finishes early in the season yielded points, but weren't what was expected by the driver or Rahal Letterman Racing principals. Then a chassis switch mid-stream yielded some angst and three consecutive finishes out of the top 10.
Well, there are two points to make after the Firestone Indy 200 at Nashville Superspeedway:
1. Patrick says she isn't poised to bolt the IndyCar Series, where she has unfinished business and unfulfilled dreams.
2. Danica, who along with teammates Buddy Rice and Jeff Simmons has been trying everything to move the Dallara to the front of the field, drove the Firestone Firehawks off the No. 16 Argent Mortgage Honda-powered Dallara at Nashville to score a career-best-tying fourth place.
First, item No. 1. Patrick's response to ESPN's Dr. Jerry Punch's question, 'What does Danica Patrick want to do?'
'I want to race IndyCar. I really do. I want to win the Indy 500 like I said. I want to be successful here. My goals haven't changed. I came here to do well on the track, to learn, to win and be successful. And off the track, I want to grow the sport. My goals haven't changed since my parents went to the race at Chicago. All it did was show me different opportunities. Whether it comes now or three, five, seven or ten years down the line, I'll deal with it then. Like I said, I really want to win the Indy 500.'
OK, so on to item No. 2. Patrick advanced six positions, calling it a 'good night.'
'The best part about all that was that I was able to chase the race car and have enough adjustment in the cockpit,' she said. 'That's not something that's happened for quite a while -- that I've been able to actually have enough adjustment inside the cockpit with the weight jacker and the front and rear roll bars, which I did tonight, which means we were in a pretty good range with the car.
'I'm proud of the team. We've had quite a long season so far. Indy was 10 times more difficult than last year. Obviously, changing over to the Dallara, we, mostly the pit crew, has been working their tails off in preparing these cars.
'I'm just relieved we were able to run up there for awhile at the end. We have not even really started with this race car. We've only scratched the surface of it in what we can find to make it go faster. I'm happy about that. We still have a lot of racing left to do in the season. I just hope that we can sort of build on this. This is good momentum for the team and myself.'