At the 2005 Indianapolis 500
Just the facts here--nothing too "creative". Indy car fans already knew a little about D. P.; she finished 4th at the Japan Indy car race earlier this year. She's a good driver (with an excellent racing resume) on a great team (Rahal/Letterman); it's no surprise that she's doing extremely well. And let's cancel the idea that she might be the greatest Indy rookie ever--because she's not even close to Helio's winning BOTH of his FIRST 2 Indianapolis 500's (earlier this century). She IS the best woman starter and finisher at Indy now; I'm sure that makes her the fastest competitive female racer ever, too (227.+ mph). Let's get some set-up:
She had the fastest car AT Indy for qualifying this year; she turned the fastest lap at one point--do you remember hearing about that? During her 4-lap qualifying run, she had a high-speed wobble on her first lap, but held on to it, and still wound up with the 4th fastest qualifying time (even WITH the wiggle). Wow. Let's get to the race:
She was competitve from the start--and that's good news. In-car cameras show the driver's hands on the steering wheel. The whole world could see that the #16 car was the ONLY one that was having serious steering issues; the driver's hands were shaking all over the place--there is NO physical way that ANY driver could put up with that for 500 miles; forget "rookie", forget "female"; I seriously doubted that the steering in her car would hold up through the first round of pit stops. Fortunately, the steering problem didn't get any worse. Danica became the first woman to lead a lap at Indy. But don't get all teary-eyed yet; some chauvinists will attribute this female-led lap to the first round of pit stops. Sure.
Remaining competitive with arms still shaking, #16 would stall out while trying to leave the pits. It happens. She got back out quickly enough, and only dropped down to 16th place. I was happy--because now the attention is OFF of car #16, down there in 16th place. She was probably cussing and crying (and you would have been too), but I was glad that she was now out of the spotlight. A little later, I still don't have all of the details, but it looked like SHE had the inside position on another car, and both cars bumped pretty hard (sparks and everything). That had to be terrifying; to be in the right--in position, and to still get whacked like that. Guess what? She held on; again, cussing and crying (I know I was), but still competitive.
Let's get to the biggest deal; under yellow, while trying to warm her tires up, she spun in turn 4, took out another car/trashed her nose cone, and had to pull straight into the pits. This would have to be her biggest "rookie mistake"; but her team got the nose cone fixed quickly enough to keep her on the lead lap. Unfortunately, by wrecking ON pit road and coming straight in to the pits, she had to fulfill a stop-and-go penalty (that's just how it works). In and out, still on the lead lap, this is a remarkable run; now if there could be just one more yellow:
There was! Everybody pitted, but #16 didn't have to, so #16 took the lead at lap 172. Is this a fluke? Maybe you could argue this as a fluke, too. But I've got more news for you; #16 was leading the race on lap 193 when she was passed for the final time. So here's the comment to all the "flukers"; #16 was LEADING the race with 6 laps to go--LEADING. "Leading" in the last 10 laps is no fluke, okay?
#16 finished 4th today. Viewership of the greatest spectacle in racing was up 40%; women now have a reason to care about Indy cars. Judge #16 on merit and composure; grace under pressure, and the ability to deal with adversity--from the first lap! I'd give her an "A" grade in crisis-resolution. Who WOULDN'T be a Danica Patrick fan? I wish ABC big advertising money from the upcoming June 11th Indy Car race; let's check the viewership on that one, too.
Summary: She starts the race with a bad steering problem. Then she stalls in the pits and drops out of the top 10. She got bumped, hard, and held on. Then she wrecks, spins, and has to have her nose cone replaced. She gets a penalty because the wreck/spin happened in turn 4 on pit road. Then she was leading the race with 6 laps to go; finally finishing 4th.
I don't know the young lady; I'll never meet her, and I'll never talk to her. But if I could--this is what I would say: "DP, we have got to get you a win. One win, in one Indy car race, anywhere this year, and YOU will be the favorite (again) at the 2006 Indy 500. Good luck."
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