Danica Patrick has had a difficult time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during this month of May. After finishing third in the 2009 Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Patrick had high hopes for the 94th running of the 500. While those hopes are not yet dashed, Patrick has struggled to get up to speed so far at the Speedway.
Patrick qualified the No. 7 Go Daddy machine twenty-third on Saturday's Pole Day at a speed of 224.217. She was the second slowest car to make it into the field on the first day of time trials, and the fifth slowest car in the entire field. Placing the car in the middle of row eight was not Patrick's goal, and she quickly let the fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway know it.
Following her qualifying run, Patrick was interviewed in pit lane over the track public address system. During the interview, the IZOD Indycar Series' most popular driver blamed the poor qualifying run on the setup, essentially throwing her team under the bus. She stated she had a "good car with a bad setup." Several fans began booing the Andretti Autosport driver after this exchange, in a shocking sight to most race fans.
Patrick has been a fan favorite since she entered the series in 2005, but her recent journey into NASCAR and lack of results this year in Indycar has her very frustrated. That frustration has come through often in interviews, and the fans seem tired of hearing it.
The easiest solution for Patrick is the ultimate cureall in sports... winning. If Patrick manages to come from 23rd to win the race, she would be the first to do so in the nearly one hundred year history of the race. Her teammates had plenty of suggestions, chiefly among them, team veteran Tony Kanaan.
Kanaan said, "we sometimes say things that we don't want to say and we regret." Kanaan went on to recall advice he gave Danica the night before. "You gotta learn from the tough times and the same guys that she finished fifth in the championship last year and won her first race, they're still there. In racing, having the good setup and a good car, I believe that your attitude counts a lot."
Kanaan's weekend showed just how important team Andretti can be, as he crashed two different cars over the weekend. Members from all five of the cars on team Andretti Autosport worked to put Kanaan's car back together on Sunday morning just in time to bump into the field and make the race.
Patrick has always been a fiery driver however, and her passion is one of the reasons that she is both successful and her fans love her. However, that passion must stay focused and help her to go faster instead of leading to frustration. Patrick could take a lesson from a driver who also is very passionate and struggled greatly this year at the 500.
Paul Tracy has long been a favorite of fans of the former Champ Car series, as well as among those in the IZOD IndyCar series. He also has not been a stranger to being booed. Despite all this, after Tracy failed to make the race on Sunday, the fans saw a whole new side to the Canadian.
Tracy's KV Racing team had been struggling all month. While they were fast at times, the team was often out of control, with every car hitting the wall at some point. Tracy never hit hard, but did brush the wall a couple of times. His car had a transmission failure during pole day, meaning his chances were relegated to bump day. And during bump day, Tracy qualified near the rear of the field. In the dramatic final minutes, KV and Tracy withdrew his qualified car in an attempt to post a faster time. However, with the increased temperatures, the car did not handle well. The time was slower, despite Tracy driving as well as he could, because the car was loose and Tracy missed his first Indianapolis 500.
Afterward, most expected Tracy to throw the world’s largest fit and destroy anything in his path. Instead, the KV driver calmly went to a post race press conference and spoke briefly with gathered members of the press. Tracy could have blamed his team for the loose setup, he could have blamed his team for the electrical failure in the transmission the day before, and he could have even blamed the team owner for choosing to withdraw the car and go again (his original time would have stood).
Instead of all of those choices, Tracy walked into the room and said, "the team did everything they could. I drove the wheels off of it. And I don't know what to say." His actions shocked most of the gather press, as well as fans, and he gained the respect of his peers.
Patrick could learn from Tracy. He has been one of the most successful Indy car drivers in the past twenty years, with 31 Indy car wins. Patrick should want to emulate his success, but must also learn from his mistakes. Tracy has been brash and abrasive for a long time, which prevented him from landing a full time ride after the merger between the two open wheel series.
Patrick is a talented driver and a fan favorite, but can also be brash and abrasive. However, she is now a veteran driver and must start to act like one both with the media and with her team. In racing, you will always win as a team and lose as a team. Patrick should heed the words of Tracy and focus closely on the following,
"We worked as a team all week, and we made decisions as a team. And you win and lose as a team. So I've had a lot of wins in my career where we've made calls that were the right calls. We've made calls that are the bad calls. [We] put a lot of work into this and we came up short as a team."
If Patrick can learn these lessons and work with her team to improve, then she will improve her race results down the line. And she will also ensure that the boo birds have gone away.