- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Andretti Autosport seemingly pulled a rabbit out of a hat in the form of a sixth-place finish for Danica Patrick in the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick gained national notoriety after publicly expressing her frustration about her car's 23rd-place performance in Indy qualifying by placing the blame on the Andretti engineering staff.
On Sunday, that same group of slide-rule-packing boffins put a reasonably competitive race setup on Patrick's No. 7 GoDaddy.com car and devised a pit-stop strategy that helped Patrick achieve her best result of the 2010 season.
All of the Andretti cars struggled in Indy qualifying, with Marco Andretti the team's leading representative in 16th place. Andretti raced to a third-place finish in the 500.
Patrick lost positions before she got back on the positive side of the ledger in the race, but the payoff was what she hopes will be a season-turning result.
"Slowly but surely each stop we just made the car a little bit better and the guys did a kick-ass job on pit stops," Patrick told reporters in the pit lane after her third top-six finish at Indianapolis in six starts. "As I said in the last few days, I knew when the race came, we'd be good, as the team has a great history at the speedway. I knew we would get better.
"No doubt we had a shot at winning the event."
That assessment is probably a bit optimistic, given that Patrick pitted from 27th place during the first caution period on Lap 10 and played the alternate strategy game to gain track position. Rapid pit work elevated her from 17th to 12th on the 110th lap.
"We did struggle a little in the early goings," Danica said. "We almost went a lap down. But we were able to get the GoDaddy.com car into the position it should have been in.
"I kept telling them if I got as many [places] on track as they did in the pits, we'd be good. From where we started, we did have a good day. Whole team had a good day."
Patrick was initially classified in fifth place, but it was later established that she and two other drivers passed her teammate Andretti after the caution light came on during the 199th lap of the race. Andretti was awarded third place, ahead of Alex Lloyd, Scott Dixon and Patrick.
The sweltering heat, measured at 96 degrees ambient in the last hour of the three-hour contest, failed to faze Patrick.
"I could have sworn 2006 was 98 degrees, so maybe I've been in two of the hottest Indy 500s," she said. "The only thing you notice is getting thirsty. I don't feel hot. I felt good physically, but got thirsty a few times."
AA's Tony Kanaan drove from 33rd to second place, but the Brazilian was one of the drivers who pitted for fuel in the late stages, allowing Patrick to climb from 13th to sixth place in the final 10 laps.
"What a great way to end a tough month," Patrick said in Andretti Autosport's postrace press release. "It was a challenging race, but together with my crew doing outstanding pit stops and the engineers calling a great strategy, we were able to pull off a good finish for the GoDaddy car.
"I never doubted we could accomplish this together as a team. We finished the month on a high note, so heading into Texas is a confidence booster."
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.