Danica Patrick turns blazing practice run

LAS VEGAS -- Danica Patrick has been used as the poster girl to promote Sunday's IndyCar World Championships race, her last as a full-time driver in the series.

Although points leader Dario Franchitti and Will Power are battling for the series championship and $1 million bonus, it is Patrick, 10th in points and the only woman to win an IndyCar race, who has been the featured driver in newspaper ads and in radio and TV commercials for more than a week.

She might have proved race promoters prophetic after she posted the fastest lap among 34 drivers during a practice session Thursday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"That was fast, almost Indy speeds," she said (referring to the series' fastest circuit, in Indianapolis) moments after posting a best lap of 224.719 mph.

"I'm surprised. Almost 225 is pretty quick."

The 32-year-old driver for Andretti Autosport added she believes it's the first time in her seven-year IndyCar career that she was the quickest in practice.

And her timing could not be more on cue.

Although Patrick will leave IndyCar at the end of the season to begin racing full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and up to 10 races on the premier Sprint Cup circuit, she is being treated by IndyCar officials as if she has won more than one race.

"Every sport loses its superstars at one point or another, and we're not hiding that Danica is leaving," IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard said.

"Danica Patrick has done a great job as an ambassador for our sport. We have a special video tribute we'll show this weekend to send her on her way as classy as we can."

Patrick will appreciate that, but remaining the fastest throughout the weekend is her focus.

"I just want to finish it off on a good note," she said.

If she is not in Victory Lane on Sunday, she will have no regrets about her IndyCar career, which includes 115 races and a win in the Japan 300 in 2008.

"I very much don't believe in regret because I think that every little thing that I've done so far has put me to where I am today and made me who I am today," she said. "... One little thing that may have not seemed so fun or so great was all part of the process."

Turning the fastest time Thursday is something she can add to her open-wheel accomplishments, but she's happy with what is on the list now.

"I'll always remember my first Indy 500 for sure, winning in Japan. Those will be the things that I remember most," she said.

"But I'll remember that it has gone fast, but at the same time it seems like light-years from 2005 when I started. I've had a lot of fun."

Winning the pole Friday certainly would make her smile even more.

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