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The third-year driver sat in third place when the red flag flew for rain, and if the result stood she would have bested her 2005 fourth-place finish -- the high mark for a woman at the Indianapolis 500.
Instead when the race resumed, Patrick was slowed by a couple of off-sequence pit stops and could only manage eighth.
"I had a fast car, and it was a good day except for some bad luck at the end," Patrick said. "Then the rain came, and I was in the wrong place."
Four laps after the race returned to green, Patrick passed Andretti Green Racing teammate Marco Andretti to move into second place. She held the position for 17 laps but could not catch another AGR teammate, leader Tony Kanaan.
On Lap 137, Kanaan and Patrick pitted for tires and fuel. Patrick came out of the pits in 14th and worked for the next 17 laps to get back to the fourth spot. But she came in again on Lap 155 under yellow following Marty Roth's crash. After that stop she left pit road in 10th place and ran out of laps just to get back to where she was before the race resumed, much less compete for the win.
"Another year of frustration where I really thought I had a chance to win," she said. "It's frustrating."
Teammate Dario Franchitti did not pit under Roth's yellow and because of that decision he inherited first place, which held on the rest of the way. He, Kanaan, Marco and Michael Andretti combined to lead 131 of the 166 laps; Patrick was the lone AGR driver not to lead a lap.
-- John Schwarb
This year's near misses
Every year there is at least one driver who believes he or she could or should have won the Indianapolis 500. This year there were half a dozen.
Franchitti's face will soon appear on the Borg-Warner Trophy, but Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Patrick, Sam Hornish Jr. and Marco Andretti all believe they ought to be the ones posing for the engraver. Instead, they all had a tale of woe to tell after a long afternoon of racing and waiting.
Castroneves eventually took third place, but his race got off to a shaky start when Team Penske struggled to get his car started. Things got worse for the two-time Indianapolis winner when the Penske crew suffered a problem with the No. 3 car's fueling rig during the first pit stop, dropping Castroneves to 17th place.
|Danica Patrick did not have the sort of race she wanted despite being in contention.|
By the time the rain delay came around, Helio was back in the top five. But he didn't have enough green flag laps to hunt down Franchitti and second-place finisher Scott Dixon.
"For everything that happened today, I have to say that third is a fantastic result," said Castroneves.
Dixon wound up on the same pit-stop sequence as Franchitti and that set up their 1-2 finish.
"The track was coming to us at about Lap 100 but then it started to rain," Dixon said. "Then coming back out the track was so green and that made it harder to work back up through the pack.
"We were cautious on that last restart and I think we had enough speed to get Dario, but 'He said, she said' doesn't work," the New Zealander added. "If you come away with anything less than first place, you feel incomplete. We have to work harder next year to make sure we stay near the front and control this race."
Dixon's Ganassi Racing teammate entered the Month of May as the prohibitive favorite, but he suffered handling problems all day and finished 22nd after banging wheels with Andretti and sending the AGR driver into a barrel roll.
"It didn't seem like anything we did today worked very well for us," said the 2005 Indy winner. "We were definitely trying hard, but so was everyone else. It's just an unfortunate day for us and I'm very disappointed."
Andretti ran second in the first 113-lap segment but faded in the 50-lap finale before being pitched into a frightening accident when his car made contact with Wheldon's.
"I'm going to be bruised, but to come out of that bruised I'm going to be happy," Marco said. "I was upside-down for a long time."
Defending champ Hornish almost had a similar moment earlier in the race when he aggressively blocked Tomas Scheckter and got a cut rear tire as his reward. The three-time IndyCar Series champion rebounded to finish fourth.
"It wasn't a catastrophe because there could have been two wrecked race cars but it made it a hard day when it didn't have to be," Hornish said. "I just didn't think there was room for another car there and it was pretty early in the race. Maybe some discretion would have helped and I should have known who I was racing against. The car was really good and I feel like I let the guys down."
Patrick was running third when the rain came the first time but she faded to eighth in the final sprint, losing two positions in the crucial final round of pit stops. She ended the day in eighth place.
"I had a fast car and it was a good day except for some bad luck at the end," she said. "I'm just glad one of our guys won and not someone else."
-- John Oreovicz
Early end for one Andretti
John Andretti's crew fixed a rearview mirror that fell off and brought out the day's first caution on Lap 11. They couldn't fix the next problem.
Andretti, nephew of 1969 Indianapolis 500 champion Mario Andretti and cousin to Michael Andretti, crashed on Lap 99 and finished 30th. He was moving through the south short chute into Turn 2, got high on the track and lost control of his Dallara-Honda, crashing into the outside wall.
"Going down on Turn 1, I had someone dive underneath me," Andretti said. "I got up into the second groove and got all that stuff on my tires. And when I went into Turn 2, I knew it was going to be bad. I couldn't turn down again because after going through Turn 1 and lifting, they were starting to get underneath me. And so I got into Turn 2 and the car wouldn't turn at all, and the car just went straight."
Andretti started 24th for Panther Racing, which fielded a third car alongside Vitor Meira and Kosuke Matsuura. The ride came together just before the second weekend of qualifying, and Andretti got to start the 500 for the first time since 1994. But the finish was his worst in eight starts.
"This place can pump you up so much and take it all away from you that quickly," Andretti said. "Today wasn't the day I hoped for."
Driver, crew member hospitalized
Chastain Motorsports driver Roberto Moreno was the first one out on the day, pushing up the track in Turn 1 and crashing on Lap 37. He got out of his Panoz without assistance but complained of back pain and was transported to a local hospital. An MRI was negative and he was listed as having a contusion.
Dan Brown, a tire changer for Al Unser Jr., was also taken to the hospital after being hit by another car on pit road. He sustained multiple foot fractures to his right foot.
That's not ethanol!
1983 Indianapolis 500 winner Tom Sneva was asked if he had any good rain-delay stories from his years competing at the Brickyard.
"One year, probably 1976 (the shortest race in Indy history, declared final after 255 miles), Lloyd Ruby drank about a six-pack of beer," Sneva recalled. "It didn't look like we were going out again and I can't believe he got back in."
Ruby finished 12th in the '76 race in the Fairco Drugs Eagle/Offy, two laps down on winner Johnny Rutherford.
How did Ol' Rube run after his own version of 'Happy Hour?'
"He certainly wasn't any slower!" Sneva said.
Davey Hamilton, racing for the first time since a horrific 2001 accident at Texas Motor Speedway that required nearly two dozen surgeries on his feet, finished ninth. "Man, it was a great day," he said. Scott Sharp's sixth-place finish for Rahal Letterman Racing was his best finish in 13 Indy starts. Sarah Fisher's 18th-place was her best in six Indy starts. Sunday's race proceeded for the first 36 laps with the full field intact; only one other race since 1954 lasted so long without losing a car (2000).
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.