Danica Patrick would be ecstatic with another strong run at the Detroit Indy Grand Prix.
After starting 11th last year at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, Patrick worked her way up to fifth late in the race when the cars running second, third and fourth were involved in an incident with two laps to go. Patrick sped past the wreckage and held on for a second-place finish behind Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Patrick, fifth-fastest in practice on Friday with a lap at 100.100 mph (161 kph). “I’m very fortunate that I didn’t get caught up in it. It was great to stand next to Tony Kanaan on the podium, first and second. Hopefully we can do something similar again.”
Despite winning her first IndyCar race this season in Japan, nothing has come easy this year for Patrick. She has finished in the top 10 in nine of 15 races this year, but only three times in the top five, including a fifth-place showing last weekend in Sonoma, California.
“It’s been a year of ups and downs, and drama,” Patrick said. “It’s either been something on the track drawing attention or something off the track. It’s just been like that this year.
“(Winning) hasn’t lessened the pressure to win again. We’re shooting for No. 1 every week. It’s the other drivers who are making it hard on me. The competition is very deep out there, especially on the road courses. It’s tough every single weekend.”
The success has been accompanied by some distractions. The most notable one occurred during practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio when Patrick marched over to driver Milka Duno’s pit box to complain to her and Dreyer & Reinbold crew members that Duno was too slow on the course and blocking faster drivers. Duno responded by twice snapping a white towel at Patrick before telling her to leave.
Still, Patrick has been able to continue to focus on her driving. She’s sixth in the Indy Racing League driver standings, 45 points behind fifth-place Ryan Briscoe of Australia.
“Every year at the end you think if it wouldn’t have been for that one thing,” Patrick said. “That’s just the way it goes. But you can’t control it. Everybody has their bad races. Everybody has their throwaways. That’s what makes a season.
“Obviously Scott Dixon is kicking everybody’s butt and doing a good job this year.”
Patrick admitted that a repeat of her last performance at Detroit is going to be difficult on the 14-turn, 2-mile (3.3-kilometer) circuit.
“Passing is very difficult here,” she said. “It’s difficult to pass on any road course, really, but here it’s not like you drop a wheel off in the gravel and keep going or get pushed wide. You hit a wall.
“There’s just nowhere to go. I did a couple of them last year, but they weren’t pretty. A lot of crashes end up happening when you try. The only other spot you can make up spots outside of actually passing would be through strategy, through fuel saving, through pit stops. I think a lot of us tend to rely on strategy for the cleanest passing.”
Plus, Patrick noted that this year’s race field was expanded from 17 to 26 with IndyCar’s merger with the Champ Car World Series.
“We’ve got 10 or 11 new entries and that definitely gets into the mix. It fogs it up,” she said. “Last year there were a lot of top fives and running up front a lot. This year it’s just not been quite the same. There’s just too many drivers out there.”