A roller-coaster race at Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS -- Danica Patrick left the Indianapolis 500 empty-handed, potentially for the last time. Once again she had run among the leaders -- despite starting 25th -- and raced to the lead of the greatest spectacle in open-wheel racing for the first time since her rookie season.
But once again, Patrick fell short of the ultimate prize, ending up in 10th place, her second-worst finish in seven starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Patrick led 10 of the race's 200 laps, staying ahead of the field with as little as 21 laps to go and bringing a crowd of more than 200,000 to its feet in a rush of anticipation.
Patrick last led at Indianapolis in 2005, when she paced the field for 19 laps but, while conserving fuel with seven laps to go, yielded to the race's eventual winner, Dan Wheldon.
On Sunday Andretti Autosport strategists asked Patrick to conserve fuel at various times as an alternate strategy to advance her through the field, but after pitting with 41 laps remaining under caution, she was informed that she would still be unable to go the distance. Patrick was forced to pit for fuel with 21 laps to go, ceding the lead to Bertrand Baguette. Baguette yielded to J.R. Hildebrand, who in turn yielded to none other than Dan Wheldon, who would win his second Indianapolis 500.
"That's what you have to do here at Indy," she said. "You have to take that chance because it's win or bust here, for the most part. While it's great to have top-5 finishes every weekend, Indy is about winning."
Simona de Silvestro didn't come nearly as close. Her star-crossed month of May ended with a 31st-place finish after she brushed the wall on Lap 28, causing damage that eventually forced her out of the race after just 44 laps.
"I made contact with the wall in Turn One and it bent the upright and rear suspension," she said. "It didn't feel real good, and we realized the upright was bent."
De Silvestro had qualified 24th despite sustaining second-degree burns on her hands and fingers in a violent airborne crash during a practice two days prior. Her comeback from the injury made her a crowd favorite, and she received a raucous ovation in pre-race ceremonies.
Meanwhile, Patrick, who continues to ruminate on whether to return to IndyCar or switch full-time to NASCAR next season, was greeted with a mix of cheers and jeers.
Patrick has maintained in the past that the lure of winning the Indianapolis 500 would not factor into her decision, but her post-race comments will serve as grist for speculation.
"Every time I come here, and I see someone else win, I hate it more every time," she said. "So the more times I come here, the more times I love it, the more I want it."
Pippa Mann finished 20th, two laps down, in her first Indianapolis 500 and only scheduled race of the season.
The field's fourth female racer -- tying an Indianapolis 500 record -- Ana Beatriz finished 21st. Despite being a lap down, her car factored in the finish as much as any other: It was the car Wheldon was attempting to pass in pursuit of Hildebrand when the rookie crashed into a wall on the final turn, ceding the win to Wheldon. Beatriz eventually finished three laps down due to a miscalculation of fuel consumption that forced the Dreyer & Reinbold team to make an extra pit stop.
"The conditions were pretty difficult," said Beatriz. "We got left behind and really couldn't recover. It's a shame. The car was pretty good.
"It's tough. It was very competitive and we just couldn't get the yellows where we wanted so that we could get our lap back. We really can't accept mistakes anymore. We need to understand how to get it right. If we do that, maybe we can have a chance at getting a win at the Indy 500."
According to Wheldon, another woman -- one without a fire suit -- was a central figure in this year's memorable Indianapolis 500.
"People shouldn't forget what a great job my wife [Susie] has done," said Wheldon. "It's very easy [for outsiders] to just think that you can come back and win. But it's not the case. There's times when you do doubt yourself a little bit. Through all of this, she's been incredibly supportive and she understands that this is all I've ever done. She knows that racing creates the personality in me that she loves. So she was desperate to get me back out of the house and in a race car."