FORT WORTH, Texas
Danica Patrick may have succeeded in reversing the recent trend of getting booed and turning it back into cheers after the way she raced Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sometimes the best races are the ones that don’t end in victory lane. That was the case with Patrick in the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550k.
Patrick fell just short of winning for the second time, but this was the best complete race of her career. She didn’t get to the front by using fuel strategy or by having the nature of the race fall into her lap; she raced her way to the front through sheer speed and determination.
Just one week after she was booed in pre-race introductions at the 94th Indianapolis 500, Patrick could finally talk about some good news after finishing second to Ryan Briscoe.
It was the best race of her career, even if it didn’t result in victory like at Twin Ring Motegi April 20, 2008.
“It was probably my best, cleanest race,” she said. “I’ve had races where there have been sort of awesome things that have happened. It gets overlooked because you’re not in the lead. But tonight was probably my best race as far as top to bottom, not making any mistakes, being good in the pits, being good in and out of the pits, being good on the track.”
And even with obvious adversity in her not so distant past, Patrick continued to accentuate that her season hasn’t been all that bad.
“I think there has been good news throughout the season really,” Patrick said. “It was a good weekend last weekend in Indy. It’s a good weekend here in Texas.
“Sometimes the little victories that I have throughout the season are not necessarily obvious on the track. Maybe they are another aspect of what I’m doing, winning little victories here and there to get everything in line to be able to perform from top to bottom on race day. I’ve been working hard all season. I think that it’s just really nice to have a result to show for how hard I’ve been working and how hard all the team has been working, as well.”
Ah yes, the team. It was just a few weeks ago that Patrick had the worst qualification performance of her Indy 500 career when she was 23rd out of 24 cars that qualified on Pole Day. Afterward, she blamed it on the crew saying, “The car was not good.” That led to a shower of boos from the Indy crowd that obviously stung her.
In reality, perhaps that negative response actually inspired her to improve her effort.
Team owner Michael Andretti made a change by replacing Tom Anderson as her race strategist with Paul “Ziggy” Harcus beginning with the Indianapolis 500. Anderson was freed of the responsibility of calling Patrick’s race strategy and can now focus on the entire four-car team at Andretti Autosport.
Harcus is a veteran of IndyCar racing and the combination appears to have had a dramatic impact. They used race strategy and pit stops to get Patrick to sixth at the Indy 500.
At Texas, they gave Patrick a fast race car and that allowed the “Determined Diva” to show that in her heart, she is indeed a true racer.
“I don’t know if I want to necessarily say that it was Ziggy that made the difference and Tom didn’t do a good job. I don’t think that’s the case,” she said. “I think that it’s kind of been not only putting someone in the position to be on the radio with me that I get along with and understand and gives me the exact information I’m looking for, but everything else that we’ve been working on is falling into line, too.
“So I think it’s just kind of everything has come more to a head right now and you’re seeing the product of what we’ve been working on for the last couple of months. But he has done a really good job and he gives me what I need on the radio.”
Patrick expected to have a good season, but got off to a terrible start. Rather than flashing that pretty little smile, she scowled, which only fueled the critics.
Her performance Saturday was her way of silencing the critics.
“There were a few boos, but as a driver (in the car), you never get to hear those things out there,” Patrick said. “But when you get out of the car, you do. The fans were great after Indy, as well. I heard them cheering and chanting my name. The fans were excited before we even came down the steps to go out onto the track and race today.
“The fans are always really excited at Texas and it’s always nice to be loved.”