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IRL Patrick looking for first victory



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



She'll start from the pole in today's Amber Alert Portal Indy 300.

SPARTA, Ky. (AP) -- Danica Patrick says she's felt more like a "girl racer" in recent weeks, thanks to the media's focus on her story. But that could be a good thing for her at Kentucky Speedway, if history is any indication.

Since opening in 2000, the track has proven kind to female drivers like Sarah Fisher and Erin Crocker. Patrick, who will start from the pole today in the Amber Alert Portal Indy 300, says that's likely just a coincidence and doesn't think it will make much of a difference as the rookie seeks her first Indy Racing League series win.

Still, it can't hurt.

"There you go," Patrick said upon learning about the previous success of Fisher and Crocker at the track. "Let's all go home. I'm going to win this thing."

Then, a bit more seriously, she continued. "I wish it were that easy. But it wouldn't be very rewarding, would it?"

Previous success

Fisher became the first woman in IRL history to win a pole when she did so at Kentucky three years ago. Last month, Crocker, an aspiring stock car driver, won the pole for the ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway and finished a strong second to Chad Blount in the race.

Patrick, driving a Honda for Rahal Letterman Racing, matched Fisher's feat last month at Kansas Speedway, which, like Kentucky Speedway, is a 1 1/2-mile tri-oval track.

Patrick added another pole Saturday, when rain washed out qualifying for today's race. Patrick earned the pole based on combined speed from the two practice sessions Saturday. Her average speed was 217.516 mph, slightly ahead of series points leader Dan Wheldon, who averaged 217.500 mph and will start on the outside of the front row.

More than trivia

Before Patrick's emergence, such success by a female driver mostly made for a good trivia note. Now, people are paying close attention to drivers like Patrick and Crocker, taking them seriously and wondering when they'll win. But other drivers caution that it's not quite that simple, considering the experience level of the competition.

"I look back to when I was a rookie," said Wheldon, who has won seven series races. "You're up against guys that have been around, for not just a year or two, but you're talking 10 years."

Veteran drivers "are not stupid," he said. "They know this game inside out. You could have a car quicker than them, but when you're a rookie they can still beat you because they know every little trick in the book."

Of the IRL drivers who have won at least one series race, it took an average of 33 starts to record that first win. The 23-year-old Patrick will be making her 12th career IRL start today. She said her first win will come in time.

"I think we've definitely shown the ability to be fast," Patrick said. "We've shown the ability to run up front, to lead races, to qualify on pole. I think for me a lot of things have to come together at once. I need to have a good car. I need to qualify well. I need to have good pit stops. I need to make good decisions on the track, catch a break here and there."




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