By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick completed a stressful Pole Day performance to qualify seventh for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
The 36-year-old from Roscoe, Illinois, turned a four-lap average of 228.090 mph (2 minutes, 37.8326 seconds) after being the first driver of the Fast Nine to go out. The end result put her on the inside of the third row, beside a pair of Indy 500 champions in Helio Castroneves (eighth) and Scott Dixon (ninth) for the May 27 race.
Following the run, Patrick, who drives the No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, alluded to the difficulty of putting together four smooth laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It comes down to nailing the balance more than anything,” said Patrick. “There are many, many corners that felt very easy out there, but the balance becomes really critical. As you take step forwards and trim and trim and trim, you have to achieve that balance.
“So the only times in practice have not been the greatest thing in the world, first thing in the morning after it’s been raining or early afternoon. I mean, those are not great times to know exactly what you’ve got. So you kind of have to base it off of realistic time frames of when you’ve run before.
Perhaps the biggest help has come from the confidence she has in Don Halliday, who came over to engineer Patrick for the second part of her race career-departing ‘Danica Double,’ – the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.
“He’s done a really good job of making the car consistent, predictable and comfortable,” said Patrick, the 2008 winner at Twin Ring Motegi when she drove for Andretti Autosport.
“We’ve had a pretty smooth week, but qualifying is just nerve-racking because it is all that I remember about Indy cars where it doesn’t move a little, it jumps. It doesn’t move that much. It’s either good or it’s really difficult.
“So the in-between is not a large zone. You just hope that it’s good so everything is nice and smooth. If it’s not, there are great drivers… I mean, look at (James) Hinchcliffe, he qualified on the pole a couple of years ago and struggled. (Alexander) Rossi almost bumped me out yesterday and he had a tough run. That is how finicky it is, so you just hope that you nail the balance.”
This weekend around the 2.5-mile superspeedway oval was Patrick’s first in an Indy car since leaving the Verizon IndyCar Series after the 2011 season. Although Bump Day qualifications yesterday helped to provide a preview for Sunday, it did little to the anticipation. When asked if it helped make her more comfortable in the car, she replied:
“I was still really, really nervous.”