Commentary

Car lets down Patrick a week after breakthrough victory

You can't win every week in the IndyCar Series. Danica Patrick had no shot at winning back-to-back when her car let her down at Kansas, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: April 27, 2008, 11:22 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Danica Patrick didn't fail to deliver a thrill in her first race after her historic IndyCar Series win last week at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.

Problem was, it was a survival move rather than another victorious one.

With some 64 laps remaining Sunday in the Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 at Kansas Speedway, Patrick wasn't running up front, rather she was trying to hold on for eighth place against fellow Andretti Green Racing teammate Marco Andretti. Running high through Turns 1 and 2 with Andretti and others underneath her, she got loose into the marbles and had to furiously work to keep the car off the fence.

"You never like to have the most awesome saves, because that usually means you're headed toward the wall," she said.

Patrick kept her No. 7 Dallara-Honda off the wall at that moment, but ended up with her first DNF of the season anyway. Twenty laps after her save, she pitted and in the midst of a tire change, her right-rear wheel changer found a problem. The hub had been shredded during the last stint, and there was no possible fix.

"I got caught up in the gray and I was out of the throttle for an eternity and lost a whole straightaway, so that was disappointing, then I just got back going and I'm like, this is some pretty exciting rear-end stuff out here," she said. "I felt like something was wrong at one point with the left front, maybe that's when it started, I'm not sure, but definitely the loose feeling that I was having that whole last stint was probably the rear tire moving when I got into the corner."

Patrick climbed out of the car in the pits in 19th place, her worst finish since a 20th at Infineon Raceway late in her rookie season of 2005.

She qualified third at the 1.5-mile oval, but dropped to fourth on the first lap and never ran higher than that. On her first pit stop she came in slightly crooked, and an extra couple of seconds required for the stop sent her out in eighth place. But the overall story of her day was navigating a car not as strong as it was in her two previous oval races: the win at Japan and a sixth at Homestead-Miami.

"My understeer at the beginning made me drop back, but I was climbing back up again," Patrick said. "I could see the leaders. It was like, 'A yellow and a good restart, and we're back in it.'"

Patrick had two run-ins during the race, one with a series veteran and another with a rookie who made few friends Sunday.

At the start she was on the inside of the second row with Tomas Scheckter -- making his first start for Luczo Dragon Racing -- on the outside. Scheckter crowded Patrick toward the bottom on the first lap, which quickly brought a caution when Enrique Bernoldi spun. While riding around under yellow, Patrick demanded over the radio that race officials be aware of Scheckter's aggressiveness.

"I always expect Scheckter to drive like that," she said.

Later in the day she got involved with rookie Ernesto Viso, who during the race was also involved in an incident with Scheckter and drew the ire of a few more competitors. The HVM Racing driver nearly put Patrick into the wall, and it didn't go unnoticed.

"Viso, I don't know who he is, even," Patrick said. "He's new, he's trying, he's got a pretty fast car. He's learning the ropes of this oval racing, but you know, he almost put me in the wall at one point and I'm like, 'Look dude, you're new, you better be nice because we all know how to handle this a lot better than you do at this point.'

"That's alright, you've got some newcomers and they're going to be trying to push it and they're not going to know how, they're not going to know what they can and can't do. There's a lot of etiquette in oval racing that is to be learned, and that takes a little bit of time. There was some close stuff out there."

Patrick's finish dropped her from third to fifth in points, from 14 out to now 34 behind Team Penske's Helio Castroneves, who ran fourth at Kansas. Still, as she noted, this is the best start to a season she's had going into the title everyone prizes the most: Indianapolis.

"Nobody can take away my win from me, that still happened, this is just another race on the schedule, just as Motegi was," she said. "I'm excited, we've got [practice for] the biggest one coming up in what, eight days. I'm really excited, I enjoy everything about Indy."

Including the chance to deliver thrills at the end of races.

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

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