Danica Patrick is tired of starting closer to the back of the pack than the front tier.
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Through 11 IndyCar starts this season, she’s had no first-place finishes, has won no poles and has ended up in the top five just once. She’s led only 10 laps in those 11 events; series points leader Dario Franchitti has led 579.
She qualified 23rd in the 27-car field at Mid-Ohio on Saturday.
It’s clear she’s grown tired of being passed by others.
”Qualifying’s just been terrible this year,” she said this week. ”I’ve qualified around 20th every single weekend. No matter if I’m top 10 in practice or 20th in practice, that’s seems to be where I end up. It’s very frustrating and I don’t understand it. I don’t know if it’s the tires, I don’t know if it’s the setup, I don’t know if it’s me — I really don’t know.”
In her mind, poor qualifying has forced her to take unnecessary chances just to make up the gap on the leaders.
”It definitely gives you a lot of work to do in the race,” she said. ”Usually the way it plays out, you have to make a lot of progress in the early part of the race before the first stop, before the first 10 laps or so. At Edmonton in the last race, I picked up a good handful of positions really quickly.”
She and her Andretti crew have had to find an edge elsewhere.
”Just (doing) little things to move up, move up, move up,” she said.
It was just four years ago that she won the pole at Mid-Ohio and finished fifth, one of the highlights of her career.
Now she’s unsure of what tack to take with a car that hasn’t been competitive.
”It just depends on how the beginning of the race goes. And if it doesn’t go well then all of a sudden you need to take a chance,” she said. ”You can have greatness by taking a chance and ending up in the top five. If you don’t, you’re going to end up right where you are.”
Like Manute Bol blocking shots, the diminutive Patrick batted away all questions about her future. The Associated Press reported this week that she would make a full move to NASCAR in 2012. She has been racing in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series part-time this season, along with competing in IndyCar.
Forbes.com ranked Patrick, who has won just once in IndyCar but is the darling of advertisers and male race fans, as the third-highest paid female athlete in the world at $12 million last year. She said those close to her keep her on track, so to speak.
”First and foremost I always had a very big vision about where I wanted to end up and where I wanted to be,” she said. ”I just had a lot of blind faith as they would call it that it would happen, whether I was rideless at 19 and 20 years old or whether I was in Formula Atlantic hoping to move on to the next level. I just really always knew that if I was given the opportunity and someone took a chance that it could be great. Whether it’s been my husband or my parents or PR people around me who will give me the truth and tell me what I need to do or not be doing. Those things are really important.”
GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY: This is the 50th year of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a twisting 2.4-mile road layout sit in the rolling hills a few miles from Lexington, midway between Cleveland and Columbus.
Jim Trueman, the late founder of Red Roof Inns hotel chain, pumped millions into the track to transform it from a weekend car-club destination to an elite racing facility. Trueman was owner of Bobby Rahal’s car when Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500.
The Trueman family owned the facility from its early years until this year, when it was sold to Kim Green and Kevin Savoree. The Trueman family will be grand marshals at this year’s race.
NO BIG CHANGES: The sixth-fastest time during Mid-Ohio qualifying was by Graham Rahal, Bobby’s son.
Many of the top drivers and teams went through testing at the course a week ago. That experience helped some make important changes before qualifying.
Not Rahal’s team, however.
”I felt like I had a pretty strong car in the test,” he said after having the fastest time during Friday’s qualifying session. ”We didn’t change anything at all. We just showed up.”
CROWDED SPOT: One area of concern at Mid-Ohio is turn 4, since it is the first turn after restarts.
But the drivers realize there aren’t many other options.
”We made it work in the past. It’s the best place for us to do the restarts,” said native Ohioan Graham Rahal, whose father Bobby’s race team is also based in Ohio. ”We’re never going to make it work off the last turn here. We’ve seen incidents (at turn 4) before, but I certainly think we can make it work.”
Dario Franchitti said any restarts will require drivers to do their due diligence.
”It lends itself well because you can go through there side-by-side,” Franchitti said. ”It should be interesting.”
PIT STOPS: Martin Plowman, who won the Firestone Indy Lights race at Mid-Ohio a year ago, is making his IndyCar Series debut. He qualified 26th. … JR Hildebrand, the Indianapolis 500 runner-up, leads the series rookie of the year standings and will start 13th. … Helio Castroneves, slotted 15th at the start, will be making his 199th start for Team Penske on Sunday. … Rookie Charlie Kimball had his best qualifying performance of the year and will start 10th.