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Auto Racing

Grand Prix finish pleases Patrick

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 06:59 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Maybe Danica Patrick had some vocal supporters sitting directly behind her pit, and she treated them to a solid performance Monday in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The IndyCar Series' most popular driver overcame a 21st-place starting spot, avoiding mistakes on a track that was slick for the first few laps, and finished seventh.

That tied for her second-best effort at St. Pete (she was sixth in 2006), and it was best among the four drivers entered by Andretti Autosport (formerly Andretti Green Racing).

"At the beginning of the day, I said if I can finish in the top six, that would be an awesome day," Patrick said. "We almost did. Dario (Franchitti) was definitely fast. He passed me and left with no problem, so that was going to be a hard one to hold off.

"I managed to hold off the rest of them. I know there are probably not a lot of people leaving this track really pleased, because I'm sure they felt held up, but if I was on 'blacks' (tires), I think it would have been different."

Patrick had to run the last 28-30 laps of the race on red-sidewall tires, because there were no caution flags over the last 22 laps. The "reds" provide extra grip but wear out faster.

"The last 12 laps or so, they were a handful," Patrick said. "I was just hoping time would go much quicker than what it felt like out there. So when I heard four to go, I was like, 'grab it girl, and go.' ... I was doing everything I could."

Franchitti, the defending series champion, overcame a spin on the first lap and had one of the fastest cars on the track late in the race. He passed Patrick with a few laps to go and wound up fifth.

Patrick's full-time teammates, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti, finished 10th and 12th. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has five-race deal with the team and is hoping to land full-time sponsorship, finished 11th.

Team owner Michael Andretti said Patrick's team did the job of the organization's four cars.

"She did a good job," he said. "That team did all the right things on the strategy and everything. They got her up there, got her track position, and she was able to keep most of them (back), so it was good."

Teammate trouble

Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti had a run-in on Lap 33 that team owner Michael Andretti said "ruined both of their races." Each had to make an unscheduled pit stop afterward, and they finished 10th and 12th.

"I don't really know what happened when Marco and I got together," Kanaan said. "He slowed down in front of me, and I hit him. ... Nowadays, you just can't afford any mistakes. The series is too competitive."

Marco Andretti didn't comment. Kanaan said he didn't want to talk about the incident further without first watching the video with Andretti.

The two teammates had a disagreement in the 2008 Indianapolis 500. Kanaan was leading just past the halfway point when he was passed by Scott Dixon and Andretti. Kanaan spun and was blindsided by Sarah Fisher.

Afterward, Kanaan said Andretti didn't give him enough room to race.

Asked Monday if the teammates need to communicate better, Michael Andretti said that wasn't the issue.

"They needed to take care of each other out there, and they didn't," he said.

Odds and ends

St. Petersburg's Dan Wheldon finished 10th after a right suspension failure led to a crash during the middle of the race. He started 15th and moved into the top 10 early before the incident. ... Graham Rahal, who won the Grand Prix two years ago at age 19, was never a factor, but by finishing ninth, he gave lower-budget Sarah Fisher Racing its first top-10 finish. The race marked the first time Fisher watched the car she normally drives from the timing stand. "Graham did an exceptional job," she said.

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