Patrick Relieved to Finish 6th After ‘Crazy Day’
INDIANAPOLIS - She climbed out of the car and hugged crew members, her family and the CEO of her sponsor. Brief chants of "Dan-i-ca! Dan-i-ca!" came from fans behind the fence.
When Danica Patrick faced cameras and microphones, she attributed her surprising sixth-place finish in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 - after starting 23rd - not to herself but to the pit crew and race strategists.
"If somebody would have told me, 'You will finish in the top five today,' I would have said, 'I will surely take that,' " Patrick said before the official order of finish dropped her one spot.
"I'm a little relieved," she added on national television.
Patrick had come a long way since qualifying, when fans booed her for indirectly criticizing her crew during an interview aired on the public address system.
She had come a long way just since Sunday's introductions, when she was booed again, and from lap 170 of 200, when her anger at fellow driver Alex Lloyd finally bubbled over
"That (expletive) is going to die," Patrick said into the radio, referring to the driver she believed had been blocking her and jumping the gun on restarts throughout the race.
Even on the last few laps, it appeared Patrick's day could end badly. She wasn't sure she had enough fuel to finish.
"It was kind of a crazy day," Patrick said.
Her sense of relief seemed understandable. There was a time booing Patrick at the Indy 500 would have been as unimaginable as booing Jim Nabors. But to many, this was evidence that her fame had lapped her accomplishments.
Even her status as the top female IndyCar driver was threatened. A record four women started Sunday's race, two of whom had qualified faster than Patrick. And they were both rookies, Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro. Sarah Fisher qualified behind Patrick.
De Silvestro finished 14th, Beatriz 21st. Fisher finished 26th after hitting the wall on lap 125.
Patrick, who had one top 10 finish this season going into the race, started poorly. As the team tried to find the best setup for her car, she languished.
On lap 62, Patrick's pit warned her that the leader was only 13 seconds behind her. They were concerned about her being lapped.
But as the team began to solve issues with the car, Patrick made sure to compliment the crew. After a solid pit stop, she said, "Nice job, guys." The pit radioed back, "Thank you from the boys, Danica."
Patrick had much different words for Lloyd, with whom she dueled for much of the race. Several times on the radio Patrick used profanity about Lloyd's driving.
At one point, Patrick yelled to her team through the radio, "Do something about it!" But the calm response came that race officials had warned Lloyd but would do no more.
After the checkered flag, as cars slowed down and made their way into the pit, Patrick's race strategist felt the need to tell her, "No messing with the 19 (Lloyd). We'll have a go at him later in the year."
Patrick's anger didn't carry over into post-race interviews. She said of Lloyd, who finished fourth, "We'll deal with that (later)."
Patrick had moved up to ninth when she made her final pit stop with 37 laps left.
"Work with us on the fuel," came the instructions from the pits with 21 laps left, asking Patrick not to be over-aggressive. During the final 10 laps, fuel became an even bigger concern.
With a few laps left, she expressed frustration at uncertainty about whether she could finish, saying into the radio, "Why don't we know that?"
A yellow flag on the final lap helped her fortunes.
"We were definitely cutting it close," Patrick said after the race. "My fuel alarm was on for a lap or so before that."
Amid the confusion of the yellow, she said she wasn't sure where she had finished. Well after the race, Patrick was among the drivers whose finish was changed for passing under the yellow flag on the final lap.
That was a small change, considering how Patrick's day could have ended. Instead, she was all smiles.
"I have to say that the reason I finished in the top (six) is because of my pit crew and the strategy," she said. "And that's it. I just thank them so much."