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Published: Sunday, 7/20/2008

Patrick keeps focus on winning races

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Danica Patrick starts 20th
today in the Honda Indy 200.
She is in fi fth place in points. Danica Patrick starts 20th today in the Honda Indy 200. She is in fi fth place in points.
TOM PUSKAR / AP Enlarge

LEXINGTON, Ohio - It's not always easy being Danica Patrick. As the most visible and popular driver in the IndyCar Series, everything the Illinois native does is publicized, scrutinized, and analyzed.

She is not the only woman in open-wheel racing, but she is by far the most prominent, especially after winning the first race of her career earlier this year. Patrick is swarmed by fans at every stop and is very much in demand for guest spots on the most watched television talk shows, but she wants to focus more on the racing.

"I'm just out here doing my job," Patrick said as she prepared for today's Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Patrick, who finished fifth here in last year's race over the rolling, 2.258-mile road course, said the win earlier this season might have momentarily relieved some of the pressure she felt, but that relief was very short-lived.

"I wasn't any worse of a driver before I won my first race, and I'm not any better now that I have a win," she said. "I feel the same pressure that I did before the win, which is to perform and to run up front."

Patrick, who stands fifth in the IndyCar Series points race entering today's event, started in the second position here a year ago. She starts back in the field in 20th today as her Andretti Green Racing crew struggles with several issues with her car.

"The Motorola car was a little too nervous for my style of driving," Patrick said after making practice runs around the Mid-Ohio course. "My crew is working hard to get it where it needs to be."

Patrick is concerned about her status for today's race, since any uncertainty at the start can lead to more challenges as the race progresses.

"If you have an uncomfortable race car, and you drop back at the beginning of the race because you have to work on the car, then with every stop, you lose all those spots," she said. "And you can't get them back."

A BALLOON: No driver is more relieved to see the wide open spaces of the Mid-Ohio Race Car Course than E.J. Viso of HVM Racing. The IndyCar Series rookie spent a week in isolation recently and missed the race at Nashville while dealing with a malady that most experience as children.

"When I woke up, I saw myself in the mirror, and I looked like a balloon," the Venezuelan said about his bout with the mumps. He was confined to a hotel room in Indianapolis while the disease ran its course. "We travel so much I really don't know where I picked it up. It could have been in an airport, a restaurant. It's a virus. You can get it anywhere."

Viso, who starts 17th in today's Honda Indy 200 race here, said his symptoms started with pain in his neck, which he brushed off as just the normal postrace muscle strain. "I'm glad it's over with, and I can get back to racing," Viso said.

RICE WRESTLING: IndyCar Series driver Buddy Rice, a former Indy 500 champion, expects his stamina and endurance to be tested in today's Honda 200 as the drivers make 85 laps over the twisting, turning natural terrain road course.

"It could be really physical. There might be some people out there that struggle with their fitness a bit," Rice said of the demands the track presents. "This is a real drivers' track."

Rice was seventh last weekend at Nashville and the week before provided his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team its first top-five finish of 2008 by taking fourth at Watkins Glen.

"This is the type of track where Dreyer and Reinbold Racing can really do well at, so let's hope we can build on the momentum of our last two races."



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