Phil Pash: The Danica Watch—What’s next

Danica Patrick, who came within seven laps of becoming the first female to win the Indy 500, was named JPMorgan Chase Rookie of the Year and claimed its $25,000 bonus as part of her overall winnings of $378,855. The 23-year-old finished fourth and became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 and the highest-finishing woman in the race’s history. Patrick led three times for 19 laps (last week I said 17 laps) and as late as lap 193 of the 200-lap race before being passed by winner Dan Wheldon. The Englishman earned $1,537,805 from a record total purse of $10,304,815. His payday was not a record; Buddy Rice, Patrick’s Rahal Letterman teammate, won $1,761,740 for his 2004 victory. But this year’s purse broke the year-old record of $10,250,580 and marked the fourth consecutive year it reached eight figures. The purse is composed of awards from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League, sponsors and other designations. Second-place Vitor Meira, another Patrick teammate, won $656,955; third-place Bryan Herta, a Wheldon teammate, won $457,505 and fifth-place Buddy Lazier earned $288,805. The 33rd finisher, Larry Foyt, got $189,305. … Other race statistics became official May 30. Average speed for the race winner: 157.603 mph. Time of race: 03:10:21. Caution flags: eight for 46 laps. Lead changes: 27 among seven drivers (two lead changes shy of the 1960 record). … Kenny Brack was awarded the Scott Brayton Driver’s Trophy, presented since 1997 to the driver who best exemplifies the character and racing spirit of the late Scott Brayton. Brack made his first Indy 500 start since 2003, completing a remarkable comeback from serious injuries suffered in an accident at the season finale at Texas. He filled in for the injured and was the fastest overall qualifier. … Danica generated tremendous attention to this year’s race and is being credited for creating the most excitement the open-wheel IRL has seen in years. ABC’s broadcast May 29 drew a 6.6 overnight rating and a 17 share, up 40 percent from last year and the highest since 1997. The ratings during the last 15 minutes of the race spiked to 8.8/21. Last year’s race, won by Rice, drew a 4.7/11. Arie Luyendyk’s victory in 1997, which finished on a Tuesday because of rain, drew a 7.6/19. The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. Overnight ratings measure the 55 largest TV markets in the United States, covering nearly 70 percent of the country. Share is the percentage of people actually watching TV at a time who tune in at any point during a specific program. Each overnight rating point represents about 735,000 TV homes. … Beth Ann Morgenthau, NASCAR Nextel Cup car owner for Ken Schrader’s No. 49 Dodge, made some interesting comments about Danica Patrick’s Indy effort to David Poole of the Charlotte Observer: “I guess it’s just natural for a female to pull for the female driver, but it was incredibly exciting to see how well she did. It was impressive, not just to see her finish so well, but to overcome so much adversity. Any driver doing that well would be admirable but the fact she did it as an Indianapolis 500 rookie is very, very impressive.” Morgenthau said she would like to see more women involved in all aspects of motor sports, not only as drivers but as owners, crew members and officials as well. “Someone running as well as Danica Patrick did in front of an international television audience is great for the sport,” Morgenthau said. “I’m hoping there were thousands of little girls all across the country watching, rooting for her and dreaming of the day they will run in the Indianapolis 500 or the Coca-Cola 600.” … Two of the remaining IRL races are within a 60- to 90-minute drive from Rockford: July 24, The Milwaukee Mile (ESPN), tickets: (414) 453-8277; and Sept. 11, Chicagoland Speedway (ABC), tickets: (815) 727-RACE. The July 22-24 Milwaukee race is being sponsored by Ken Hendricks’ ABC Supply Co. of Beloit, Wis. The race is being called the ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt 225.

2005 IRL schedule

March 6—Homestead-Miami (Dan Wheldon winner; Danica 15th).

March 19—Phoenix (Sam Hornish Jr. winner; Danica 15th).

April 3—St. Petersburg (Wheldon winner; Danica 12th).

April 30—Twin Ring Motegi, Japan (Wheldon winner; Danica 4th).

May 29—Indy 500 (Wheldon winner; Danica 4th).

June 11—Texas Motor Speedway* (ESPN).

June 25—Richmond International Raceway* (ESPN2).

July 3—Kansas Speedway (ESPN).

July 16—Nashville Superspeedway* (ESPN).

July 24—The Milwaukee Mile (ESPN), tickets: (414) 453-8277.

July 31—Michigan International Speedway (ABC).

Aug. 14—Kentucky Speedway (ABC).

Aug. 21—Pikes Peak International Raceway (ABC).

Aug. 28—Infineon Raceway (ESPN).

Sept. 11—Chicagoland Speedway (ABC), tickets: (815) 727-RACE.

Sept. 25—Watkins Glen International (ABC).

Oct. 16—California Speedway (ESPN).

* Indicates night race

From the June 1-7, 2005, issue

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