Panther Racing teammates on front row

Updated: June 9, 2005, 11:23 PM ET
Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Most of the attention has been on Danica Patrick since her sensational showing last month in Indianapolis. The 5-foot-2, 100-pound rookie driver became the first woman to lead at Indy (19 laps) and the highest female finisher (fourth).

At Texas on Saturday night, Patrick will start ahead of Indy winner Dan Wheldon and all but two other drivers. Her qualifying lap of 212.661 mph was good for third, a spot better than her Indianapolis start.

"If I don't do well, the story isn't as good," Patrick said. "So as long as I keep doing well, I'm happy."

Tomas Scheckter

The only drivers starting ahead of her are Tomas Scheckter (213.847 mph) and rookie Tomas Enge (182.076), the Panther Racing teammates whose Chevrolets were both knocked out of the Indianapolis because of Patrick.

Preparing to take a green flag after a caution with 45 laps left, Patrick revved her engine and suddenly swerved. She collided with Enge, and Scheckter spun into the inside wall trying to avoid the mess.

"She's usually more trouble when she's ahead of me," Scheckter said jokingly after earning his third Texas pole. "She should be fine. She took out two of our cars. A little rookie mistake had a big consequence. But I've got no problem racing with her."

Patrick had never driven a lap on the 1-mile, high-banked Texas track before practice Thursday. She then qualified better than Rahal Letterman teammates Vitor Meira (fifth) and Buddy Rice (seventh).

"It's good to come to a track for the first time and be strong, but I put that down to the team, not me," she said. "I really give credit to everybody else, but I guess I had to help out a little."

Instead of Indy 500 winner Wheldon, who will start eighth, Sports Illustrated made Patrick the first Indy driver on the magazine's cover in 20 years.

"If I owned Sports Illustrated, you've got 33 drivers in the Indianapolis 500, and one's female and hot, why wouldn't you put her on the front page?" Wheldon said. "You'd be stupid not to."

An artist spent Thursday outside the Texas track working on a gigantic mural of Patrick that hangs more than 50 feet above the ground along busy Interstate 35.

"The biggest thing for me is the self-satisfaction of winning the race," Wheldon said "I don't care about who gets the most attention. I've achieved something that's very special to me."

Now the focus is getting back on the track, where Wheldon has a chance to do something that has never been done.

The win at Indianapolis was Wheldon's third straight, matching Kenny Brack's series record set seven years ago. It also was his fourth victory in the five races this season.

Sam Hornish Jr. won a record five races in 2002, including the finale at Texas to clinch his second straight IndyCar Series season title. Wheldon still has 12 of 17 races left.

"I'm not going to get too greedy. I won the one I wanted to win," Wheldon said. "If I don't win any more races, but win the championship, I'd be really happy with that. At the same time, that's not my style. I like to win."

Wheldon leads in season points by 72 over Tony Kanaan, the defending series champion and one of his Andretti Green Racing teammates. Hornish, the Penske driver who won at Phoenix, is third in the standings.

This is the IndyCar Series' only stop this year at the Texas track known for three-wide racing at around 200 mph and some of the series' closest races. Two of the four smallest winning margins have been at Texas.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press