Danica Puts In Her Best at TMS

By STEPHEN HAWKINS
|  Sunday, Jun 6, 2010  |  Updated 5:15 PM CDT
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Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team Godaddy.com Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda, prepares to drive during practice for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway June 4, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Danica Patrick was finally leading again.

It was only one lap late for her lone lead this year, and she wound up finishing second at Texas. Still, her race on the high-banked, 1½-mile track might have been Patrick's best in her six IndyCar Series seasons.

Patrick was passing cars high and low, seemingly comfortable in any traffic. She was driving hard near the front pack the entire race Saturday night and spent many laps running wheel-to-wheel with winner Ryan Briscoe before settling for her best finish since her historic victory at Motegi two years ago.

"It was probably my best, cleanest race," Patrick said. "I've had races where there have been sort of awesome things that have happened. ... But this 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."

Briscoe was still leading when he made his last pit stop, a lap after Patrick had come in for the last time.

When polesitter Briscoe exited pit road and drove off the apron onto the track, Patrick was already back to full speed and shot past him on the backstretch.

Crossing the line at the end of the 192nd of 228 laps, Patrick led and the crowd at Texas rose to its feet with the kind of loud, wild ovation usually seen when Dale Earnhardt Jr. is running strong there in NASCAR races.

"That was great to get into the lead again," she said.

As the two cars whizzed toward the frontstretch on the next lap, though, Briscoe used his push-to-pass button to move back around Patrick to stay.

"Surprised I didn't have anything thrown at me," Briscoe said, with a smile.

The Australian said he felt he had to be aggressive to get back by Patrick. He wasn't sure what might have happened had he not done it then.

"Danica, she did an amazing job. Had a lot of fun racing side-by-side with her," said Briscoe, who led four times for a race-high 102 laps. "Good on her for the race she had."

Briscoe gave Roger Penske his track-record sixth IndyCar Series victory at Texas, and the fourth in the last five races. It was Briscoe's first victory this season after Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves had already won in the first six races this year.

"I take my hat off to Danica," Penske said. "She was terrific."

All four of Michael Andretti's drivers finished in the top seven at the track that is one of IndyCar's fastest.

Marco Andretti was third and Tony Kanaan was sixth ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose future with the team is now uncertain because of a lack of sponsorship.

Even with the overall successful night by the Andretti team, things weren't all rosy with Patrick and her teammates.

About halfway through the race, Kanaan and Patrick were racing together for several laps running in the top four. Then going into Turn 3 on lap 120, Kanaan was on the inside and seemed ready to attempt a pass.

But Patrick suddenly darted down, blocking his way, a move that even Andretti didn't like. Kanaan had to pull up and then started getting passed by other cars.

"Things could have been a little bit better, but I'm happy. It was crazy out there," Kanaan said afterward, without naming names. "Unfortunately, I got chopped back to 17th by my teammate and we had to work our way back through the field. I think we had a car to finish a little bit better."

Patrick was coming off her best finish of the season, sixth at the Indianapolis 500. She had crossed the line fifth at the Brickyard but was pushed down a spot more than two hours after the race ended when officials ruled that she and two other cars illegally passed Marco Andretti when the race ended under caution.

After a poor qualifying effort at Indy, Patrick bashed her crew and got booed by the fans who heard those comments broadcast at the track. A heart-to-heart talk with Kanaan followed, then she accepted blame for criticizing her crew.

There were plenty of kudos from Patrick for her crew after Indy, and again after Texas.

"We had a good setup on the car. The guys did such a good job on the pit stops," she said. "No matter how good you are, how brave you are or anything, it comes down to that car so many times. Not every time, but so many times. It was a good car tonight. The stops were good."

Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti started second and finished fifth at Texas, recovering from some handling problems that pushed him out of the top 10 before a closing surge.

Even though Franchitti became the first Indy 500 winner in three years to not win at Texas the same season, he took over the season points lead from Power, who finished 14th after having to make multiple pit stops to get a piece from somebody else's car pulled out from under his car.

Power had led in points since winning the first two races of the season, but is now second ahead of Scott Dixon, Franchitti's teammate with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Penske's Castroneves and Briscoe round out the top five in the standings with 10 races left -- the next at Iowa in two weeks.
 

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