Duno's day ends early, but it was a learning experience

Rookie driver Milka Duno's day ended early with a crash, but she still got her money's worth at the Indy 500, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: May 28, 2007, 12:49 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- No one can say Milka Duno didn't get her fair share of action out of her maiden Indianapolis 500, even if it was just 65-plus laps' worth.

The ballyhooed rookie -- the record third woman in the field alongside Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher -- passed cars, got a penalty and was poised to move up the field again.

But what was a long Sunday for most of the drivers, completing 166 laps over nearly six rain-interrupted hours, Duno's day lasted only one hour, ending on Lap 66 when she wrecked. She finished 31st.

As a pack of cars entered the first turn, she lifted off the throttle to tuck in behind Richie Hearn and promptly lost control, spinning through a stretch of grass and drifting up the track into the Turn 1 wall nose-first. Duno was unhurt but did enough damage to the front and rear to take her SAMAX Motorsport Dallara out of the race.

"One car passed on the inside and another car was in the middle,"Duno said. "When I was coming, they slowed down too much, I lost all my aerodynamic charge in front and there was no way to control the car. You try to control the car but everything happens so fast. You have no margin for mistake."

The 35-year-old Venezuelan had worked up to 22nd from her 29th starting position, then on Lap 54 was penalized for speeding on pit road and sent to the back of the field.

A dozen laps into a new charge, she was done.

"She was feeling good, a little bit racy, she was starting to challenge for position," team owner Peter Baron said. "Hearn took the air off, I'm pretty sure everybody else has made that mistake here.

"I'm sure she'd like to come back tomorrow. The amount of learning was just incredible."

Fellow rookie Phil Giebler echoed that thought after his run, which also ended in the Turn 1 wall. He had just completed his 106th lap and was getting up to speed on a restart when he crashed.

Milka Duno
Mike Groll/AP PhotoMilka Duno was making gains before her day ended with a spin and a crash.

"The car had a pretty bad push, and the car just snapped on me," said the Playa Del Racing driver, who finished 29th after starting last. "We were struggling with the car all day, but I think we were really starting to make it work. It was truly a fight out there. It is really a shame I could give all the guys a better finish, but I think we learned a lot."

The Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award will be announced Monday at a banquet, and neither member of the 2007 class is a shoo-in for the $25,000 prize. Both wrecked at some point in the month, Duno during the first week of practice and Giebler during a second-weekend qualifying run, both qualified in the back of the grid and both left the race prematurely.

As for the rest of the season, only one driver's future is secure. Giebler would need more funding to continue, but Duno's team has a solid backer in Citgo. Her season will continue at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks, as Baron said the team likely will make 10 starts (Duno's first was last month at Kansas, she started 21st and finished 14th) but did not want to go in back-to-back weeks yet by running next week at the Milwaukee Mile.

"There are better short ovals to go to," Baron said. "And Texas will feel like driving a Caddy after doing this."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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