Ethridge: Patrick plays delicate balancing act

May 17 2010 - 5:32pm

INDIANAPOLIS -- For all the auto-racing fans who feel that Danica Patrick gets way too much attention, here's a news flash: There are times the driving diva would just as soon be left alone, too.

With the first practice sessions for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now underway, Patrick said she's working on balancing the demands of media and fans with her first priority: to win the race.

"We know going in that his is a short month, so it's about scheduling and making sure there's enough time to drive the car with the condensed," Patrick said. "I was in New York for media stuff on (May 12), got here (to Indianapolis) Wednesday night, and now I'm getting things out of the way so they don't' have to be done during the month.

"I know my first year was kind of crazy, with how well we were doing creating so much chaos with the media, so many requests. Now, I know I won't start media before 10 o'clock in the morning so I get a chance to work out, and with practice at noon I know it has to be done between 10 and 11 or it wont' get done.

"I'm no fool, I know how important it is to have exposure and be available for interviews. It's a balancing act, but at end of day if I don't do well on the track there's nothing for you guys (reporters) to talk about."

For some race fans, that's been the problem with the girl from the start. Patrick has one victory in 86 IndyCar starts. Driving for the generally well-funded Rahal Letterman and Andretti Green (now Andretti Autosport) teams, she's been no better than fifth in the season standings, though that came with a steady progression (12th to ninth to seventh to sixth to fifth) last year.

This season, she's had a top finish of seventh and ranks 16th in points after five races. And she's started three races in NASCAR's Nationwide Series this season, with finishes of 35th, 31st and 36th.

The one place she's been consistently solid, though, is Indianapolis, finishing in the top 10 four times (including a third-place finish in 2009 and a fourth in 2005) in five attempts.

"I think my style fits Indy very well," said Patrick. "I don't know exactly what it is, but I am smooth and patient, I try to drive a smart race, and I know it's important to get to the end and to have a car that you're confident in.

"I guess it is a lucky situation to have a style that accommodates such as grand place as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I know when I got here the first day, I was driving a golf cart in pit lane, and saw the windows (on the trackside suites) that said 'Greatest race course in the world.' And I thought, yes, it sure is."

Talk like that explains why Patrick is a favorite of Indy officials and IndyCar fans, both male and female. There's not another driver on the circuit whose personal website blares "Rock What You Got" by Superchick and whose name, when Googled, conjures up as many alluring pictures as enlightening stories.

Those are reasons that NASCAR would like to see Patrick, who just turned 28 on March 25, move over to compete fulltime in its races, and why IndyCar is desperate for her to stay.

And those are reasons she balances time in the driver's seat with time in the interview room, more so than anyone else in the IndyCar Series.

"Expectations are a son of a gun," said Patrick. "But if you don't expect to do well, you're probably not going to anyway. So you just have to deal with things."


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