Danica thrills crowd early, but pole stay was short-lived

Updated: May 10, 2008

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Danica Patrick had a good run early, but had to settle for the middle of the second row -- fifth overall -- by the time Pole Day was over.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Danica Patrick's Pole Day was interesting for 34 minutes.

From 12:35 p.m. to 1:09 p.m., the IndyCar Series' most popular driver held the provisional pole for the 92nd Indianapolis 500 (ABC, May 25), with her 225.197 mph four-lap average besting a handful of early qualifiers -- even two that ended the day on the front row.

But there was more speed to be found on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, and the Andretti Green Racing No. 7 didn't find it. Patrick was nudged down the grid as the day went on, coming to a stop in the fifth position, and she didn't make another attempt at improving her place on the grid.

"At the rate we were going, it wouldn't have made much of a difference. There wasn't enough time to make the next level," she said. "I'm disappointed that we didn't find more speed, yeah, unfortunately we just didn't.

"It's not from a lack of trying, given enough time we would have figured it out, but how long is that time -- was it one more run, was it another day? What was it going to be? I think it was pretty apparent through the speeds that Penske and Ganassi found something that worked and found something that made their cars really fast, and we didn't."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon qualified 1-2, Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves were third and fourth, respectively, and Patrick was fifth to lead the four-car AGR contingent. Teammate Tony Kanaan will start next to Danica on the outside of the second row, Marco Andretti qualified seventh and rookie Hideki Mutoh took the ninth spot.

Briscoe, Andretti and Dixon were among the first of seven cars to post qualifying speeds, then Patrick beat them all to take the early pole. She called it an imperfect run, with the final two laps off her early pace, and mentally prepared herself for a long day with at least one and possibly two more qualifying attempts.

"There's more speed in this car, unfortunately and fortunately," she said at the time. "I'd love to say that this is the end of the road for qualifying for today, but I don't think it is. It's good so far, though."

As it turned out, the pole position didn't last through her post-qualifying press conference.

"Oh my God," she said, watching a monitor as Wheldon hit the track and ran a first lap nearly 1 mph ahead of hers.

"Damn, Dan," she muttered as she left the podium when the 2005 champion's run was complete and she was knocked from the top.

As the day wore on, Andretti and Mutoh made second qualifying attempts (Mutoh's first was disallowed after his car failed post-qualifying inspection), while Kanaan and Patrick turned practice laps but no more attempts.

Patrick said looking up at the frontstretch scoring pylon and finding her No. 7 in the fifth spot was acceptable, considering she qualified eighth last year and 10th in 2006. (She started and finished fourth in her 2005 rookie year, kicking off Danica-mania.)

There just wasn't much of a show to be made on Pole Day, outside a few minutes.

"This is not a bad place to start at all," said Patrick, a winner for the first time last month at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. "You can win from pretty much anywhere here, but you'd obviously like to do a good job in qualifying because we work the whole week for it."

Lloyd Still Out; RLR's Hunter-Reay Crashes

Alex Lloyd, injured Friday in the hardest crash of the month at the speedway, was released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on Saturday morning but has not yet been cleared to drive by the Indy Racing League. He will be evaluated by IRL medical staff again next week.

Lloyd, driving in a joint operation between Rahal Letterman Racing and Chip Ganassi, crashed into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier, doing significant damage to the No. 16 Dallara-Honda. The 2007 Indy Lights champion complained of neck pain and was taken to the hospital for a CT scan, which was negative, and was kept overnight for observation.

While RLR continued to fix that car, it got another repair job Saturday. Indy 500 rookie Ryan Hunter-Reay attempted a second qualifying run late in the day after being bumped from the top 11 spots, and backed it into the wall in Turn 3 of his second lap.

"We had the speed yesterday so we had a taste of it, but we just couldn't recreate it today," said Hunter-Reay, who was unhurt in the crash. "We wanted to make the car a little better on the exit [of the turns] because that is where we were having trouble, but we were on the edge and we just went over."

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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Injured Crewman Still Hospitalized

Dale Coyne Racing's Chuck Buckman, chief engineer for Mario Moraes, was transferred out of an intensive care unit but remained hospitalized Saturday after an accident during Friday's practice.

While walking through the Andretti Green Racing pit area he was clipped by the left front of Danica Patrick's incoming car and sent flipping into the air. He landed on his head, briefly losing consciousness, and suffered a traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage and a skull fracture.

Team owner Dale Coyne visited Buckman at the hospital Friday night and said he was resting comfortably and in good spirits, even able to joke about the incident, but Buckman won't return to work until next week at the earliest.

"He looks terrible -- his face is all scarred up and there's a big bump on his head. That's what [doctors] are worried about, the bump on the head, because it's swollen," Coyne said. "I'd love to see him out here tomorrow, but he's not coming out here. He needs to rest. There's no hurry."

Patrick declined further comment on the incident after issuing a brief statement Friday evening, but said Saturday that she had been updated on Buckman's condition.

Changes In The Landscape

John Andretti


One day after lamenting that he should have chosen NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at Darlington, S.C., this weekend rather than trolling the garage at Indy for work, John Andretti got his seat for the 500.

Andretti, an eight-time starter in the race and cousin of seventh-qualifying Marco Andretti, is replacing rookie Jay Howard in the No. 24 Roth Racing entry.

"As a result of the days lost to weather and losing our chief engineer [David Cripps to Panther Racing] days before the start of this month, we found ourselves behind the eight ball," Roth Racing president Margaret Roth said. "John brings with him a wealth of experience, which can help us build two competitive cars for the 500."

Roth said Howard, 20th in series points, will return for the next IndyCar race at Milwaukee.

Andretti drove practice laps in the No. 24 Saturday but did not make a qualifying attempt.

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