Indy 500: Danica Patrick Becomes a Real Race Car Driver

Bill CodyCorrespondent IIIMay 30, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 30:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda, stands next to her car prior to the IZOD IndyCar Series 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 30, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Today's Indy 500 was not a very good race. A lot of crashes, a lot of yellow flags and one dominant driver.

Dario Franchitti in his Chip Ganassi/Target car was so much better than every other racing  team out there that the only question was whether he had enough fuel to make it over the finish line at the end of the race.

It was a truly well deserved win.

Franchitti wasn't the only winner today. Fifth place winner Danica Patrick was a big winner as well. And auto racing won as well.

I know a lot of people think Danica has gotten all the breaks. She's been hyped to death and she's only won one race despite having some of the best equipment in racing the last few years. 

I agree. She's had a lot of breaks. Mostly because she's an attractive young woman who gives good interview.

But Danica did not have a great month of May.

Her car didn't handle well all month, and when her complaints about the car were broadcast over the Brickyard public address system she was roundly booed by race fans at the track.

That was followed by a lackluster qualifying run, a public rebuke by well respected fellow competitor Tony Kanaan and slow start to the actual race.

Her early performance was so lackluster that ABC all but ignored her during the course of the race.

In past year's ABC's camera's practically stalked Danica as she drove around the race track much to the consternation of hardcore race fans and her fellow drivers who were actually leading the 500 and running at the front of the pack.

This year they spent more time showing Kanaan's climb from the back of the pack to the front, talking about three time champ and former Dancing With The Stars winner Helio Castroneves and current flavor of the month Marco Andretti.

She was so buried by ABC's announcer's that they sounded dumbstruck when they realized she had finished fifth overall at the end of the race.

Not only was the former "It" girl and afterthought during ABC's coverage, she wasn't even the most discussed female driver. Brazil's Ana Beatriz was fawned over several times times by the ABC announcing crew despite finishing several laps down in 21st.

It might have been the best thing that ever happened to Danica. While ABC trained their cameras on everyone but Patrick, she did what real race care drivers do.

She kept her cool. She worked with her crew to fix a bad handling car and stayed in the race right until the end. And I'm sure she won back a lot of fans.

The thing is winning any race at this level is impressive. But it's a lot easier when a team is as dominant at Franchitti's Target team was today.

What makes the great drivers so special is that they hang in their on the days when their car isn't running that great. 

Jimmy Johnson wins a lot of races it's true. But there are drivers who have won more races in a season than Jimmy Johnson during his championship years.

The reason Jimmy's the champ is because he finishes well even when he doesn't win. The reason he's the champ is he stays with it on the days he doesn't have the best car on the track. 

That's what the great ones do. As Rick Mears used to say, "To finish first, you first have to finish."

I'm not willing to say Danica Patrick is a great driver yet. But the way she hung in there today and finished strong, makes me think she has chance to be special.

That's good for Danica and it's good for the sport.