Here are two words a driver does not like to use to describe his-or in this case, her-performance during a race weekend: "Slow" and "Nightmare."
By her own admission, IndyCar driver Danica Patrick was not happy with the way things started last June during her first trip to Richmond International Raceway. Fresh off her captivating performance in the Indianapolis 500 last year, Patrick headed to Richmond International Raceway less than a month later, ready to tackle a short track that couldn't be more different than the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With its unique, D-shaped configuration and tricky ¾-mile, semi-banked layout, Richmond International Raceway is not always kind to rookie drivers, especially when they are turning sub-16 second laps for the first time at more than 170-mph.
"Was I slow," Patrick said about her 21st place qualifying effort at Richmond International Raceway. "We had a hard time on the short ovals last year. Phoenix was a nightmare, then Richmond came next and that was a nightmare."
To her credit, Patrick bounced back on race night. Starting next to last on the grid, she ran a patient, smart race to finish 10th in the SunTrust Indy Challenge. "We were OK by ourselves, but once we got behind any cars, the rear end of the car just wanted to come around," Patrick said. "I don't know if you know what it feels like to be going 150, 200 mph with the rear end of your car wanting to come around, but it's not fun. But (the end result) it wasn't as horrible as I thought it was going to be," she admitted.
When Patrick returns along with the rest of the stars in the IndyCar Series on June 24 for the SunTrust Indy Challenge Presented by XM Satellite Radio, she says she'll be more confident that she'll perform better the first day, which will lead to an even better race result. "It's always good to come back for a second time. It always helps you feel a bit more comfortable and you start with the whole process of creating a car to go faster. If you come to a track for the first time and are just learning it, or learning how to go flat, or learning to get a feel for it, that takes time."
One thing she may have a bit more of this year is time. Before WRIC-TV8 Pole Qualifying on Friday, all the drivers will participate in an open test (rookies will run separately) on Thursday, June 23. The grandstand gates open at 9:00 a.m. and admission is free.
Patrick hopes a better start to her weekend will leave her finding different adjectives to describe her weekend. "We'll be able to go to Richmond this time and start going faster right from the get-go, hopefully," she said. "Then we'll be on par with everybody else."
Whether it's golfing or racing, "par" sounds a lot better than "slow" and "nightmare."
The SunTrust Indy Challenge Presented by XM Satellite Radio will run "under the lights" Saturday, June 24 at Richmond International Raceway. Patrick will be joined by the 2006 Indianapolis 500 champion Sam Hornish, Jr., defending race winner Helio Castroneves, the 2005 IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon, and rookie phenom Marco Andretti. Saturday night's ticket includes a seat for the Richmond Times-Dispatch 100 USAC Silver Crown Championship Series race. Reserved seats are only $35 and general admission tickets are just $30. The weekend starts Friday, June 23 with WRIC-TV8 Pole Qualifying for the IndyCar Series and the USAC National Sprint Car Series race. Tickets for Friday night are only $15 and include admission to a free autograph session with all IndyCar Series drivers. Children 12 and under are admitted free in general admission seating both nights with a ticketed adult. Please call 1-866-455-RACE (7223) or visit www.rir.com for tickets.