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Published: Friday, 6/8/2007

Feisty Patrick bumps heads with Wheldon after Milwaukee run-in

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Driver Danica Patrick can offer strong opinions at times. She
enters tomorrow's race in Texas tied for ninth in the standings. Driver Danica Patrick can offer strong opinions at times. She enters tomorrow's race in Texas tied for ninth in the standings.
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When Danica Patrick gets fire in her eyes, look out.

Last Sunday at the Milwaukee Mile, she had run-ins with Dan Wheldon both on the track and off.

The Indy Racing League called the on-track incident in which the two bumped wheels, sending Patrick on a wild ride through the grass, "nothing more than a racing incident," and handed out no penalties.

In the heated aftermath, Patrick said she thought she had made the pass, while Wheldon said he was still in front and had the right of way.

Patrick, the third-year IndyCar Series driver, and Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner and series champion, had another very public meeting after the race.

She caught up to Wheldon on pit road and, in front of a roaring crowd that appeared heavily in her corner, grabbed the Englishman around the waist, did most of the talking and, when she didn't get the answer from him she desired, gave Wheldon a light push and walked away.

Afterward, Wheldon suggested Patrick is feeling the pressure of not having won yet.

"She's messing with the wrong person if she wants to get feisty. I'm a lot tougher than she is on track."

Maybe.

It's true that Patrick, the woman who inspired a national "Danica-Mania" by becoming the first female to lead the Indy 500 and then setting a record for her gender by finishing in the race, has yet to win a race.

Some are already trying to equate the attractive Patrick, who made waves several years ago by posing for a men's magazine in a scanty outfit, with tennis player Anna Kournikova, who gained notoriety for her good looks and marketability but never won a major event.

But Patrick is showing on the track she's far more than just another pretty face.

Two weeks ago, in her third Indy 500, she finished eighth.

But, before the race was cut short by rain and her shot at a victory ended by a fuel strategy that left her in the wrong place at the wrong time, Patrick was running competitively with the big boys.

"I thought she was very impressive," said Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, who won at Indy.

"She had a fast race car and she was sticking her nose in there and racing with everyone.

"There's no question in my mind that she can do the job. It's just a question of everything coming together for her."

At Milwaukee, Patrick had a bad day in qualifying and started 17th in an 18-car field.

But she was battling Wheldon and Franchitti for fourth on the 88th of 225 laps when she and Wheldon collided.

Patrick made a great save, reminiscent of the one Tony Kanaan, another AGR teammate, made at Indy.

After she lost a lap while her team repaired a broken suspension, Patrick got back on the lead lap and finished eighth.

She goes into Texas Motor Speedway tomorrow night tied with Vitor Meira for ninth in the season points and feeling more confident.

"There's just a little bit of bravery that maybe I lacked a little in the beginning years," Patrick said.

"It's just having the confidence that you're going to go into the corner and make it out and beat them."

She pointed to a moment during this year's Indy 500 when she felt there was a pass she had to make in a difficult situation.

"I was second and chasing Tony [Kanaan] and I was passing a lapped car between one and two, I think it was Buddy Lazier," Patrick said.

"I thought to myself, 'This is for the win. If you don't keep making these passes and keep up with him, you're not going to win.'

"So I tried making the pass [on Lazier] in the short chute between one and two. It was a brave maneuver and it didn't pay off because I got passed by a couple of cars after that. But that's some of the mentality that you need to have to come out on top at the end of the day, and I think Indy was some of the best driving I've done in my career."

Patrick, who joined AGR this year after two seasons with Rahal Letterman Racing, noted that circumstances often dictate how well a driver does.

"In the first year, I had a fast car but I didn't have a ton of experience and I wasn't that good in traffic," she said. "Then, in the second year, I had a car that was slow and I had more experience and I was driving smart but, I had no chance of winning.

"And, this year, I'm with a new team and I only had two test days before the year started. An engineer can't read my mind and translate that into a perfect efficient chance every time. So this stuff just takes time and certain things just have to be right."



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