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IRL SERIES Patrick fourth in Japan



Published: Sat, April 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



She led for 18 laps before finishing fourth, her best finish of the year.

MOTEGI, Japan (AP) -- Rookie Danica Patrick has drawn attention this year as the only woman competing in the IRL's IndyCar Series. After her breakthrough performance at the Indy Japan 300, she'll get more credit for her driving.

Patrick led the first 18 laps on the Honda-built 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval before settling for fourth, easily her best finish of the year.

England's Dan Wheldon successfully defended his title and became the first IndyCar Series driver to win three of a season's first four races, edging Scott Sharp by 3.4612 seconds.

Buddy Rice was third in front of Patrick, who temporarily fell back to ninth while conserving gas before rallying for fourth. Patrick started from the front row.

"The start was pretty exciting for me," Patrick said. "We had a really good car today. I'm a little upset at the end because we had to save so much fuel, but that was the right decision because it got us to the end of the race."

Ran out of gas

Tomas Scheckter should have followed Patrick's lead. The South African was leading with two laps to go before running out of gas and finishing 10th.

Bryan Herta was fifth, followed by Tony Kannan, pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr., Darren Manning and Japan's Kosuke Matsuura.

"I'm very proud to have won this race," Wheldon said. "It was a difficult race. You had to watch your fuel level after the 140th lap and keep an eye on your tires."

Drivers might be wise to keep an eye on Patrick's car. The 23-year-old has improved in each race this season after crashing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season opener. She finished 15th at Phoenix and 12th earlier this month at St. Petersburg.

After starting second, Patrick quickly passed Hornish and paced the field for 18 laps. She later led 14 more.

"You have to get the timing right entering the corners. Our team did a great job with the calculations today," she said.

Franchitti crashed

Scotland's Dario Franchitti led a race-high 67 laps in the 200-lap event, but crashed on the 123rd and didn't finish.

"I personally think it would have been hard to pass Dario," Wheldon said. "But you don't necessarily have to have the fastest car to win. You have make the best of what you have."




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