Auto racing: Danica hears boos after poor qualifying at Indy
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Danica Patrick has experienced a new sensation at the Indianapolis 500 — getting booed.
IndyCar's most popular driver heard fans' displeasure Saturday when her comments blaming a poor qualifying performance on her car's setup were broadcast over the racetrack public address system.
Patrick, by far the leader in merchandise sales and visibility in the series, appeared upset when she talked about the reaction.
"I say one confident thing out there, that it's not me, and everybody boos me," she said. "I don't know, maybe they were booing me before, but some of them were probably cheering for me before. I'm not a different driver than I was five years ago."
The fans objected to her comments, but her team didn't.
"You take one on the chin, but maybe you had it coming this time," Tom Anderson, Andretti Autosport's senior vice president for racing operations, said. "All you can do is turn the other cheek and just get back to work."
Patrick averaged 224.217 mph on four laps in her only attempt and ended up qualifying 23rd for the May 30 race. The team didn't plan to send her out for a second run, but nervousness set in as her time began falling down the field. She was in line, waiting for another shot when time ran out.
"I think we underestimated, or I underestimated what it was going to take to make the top 24 there," Anderson said. "Speeds were up a little bit. Not the starting position we wanted, for sure. Sometimes, you just need a day away from the track to analyze it."
Patrick was shaking and holding back tears after the qualifying run. She said adjustments on the car throughout the week were poor.
"The car is just totally skating across the track, and there's no grip," she said. "My mechanics took tons of time to make sure it was fast and slick and no drag. It's there, it's just that the setup's not there. I feel bad for them because it's a good car.
"The GoDaddy car deserves to be higher up than this. It's better than this. It's just not set up right."
"We've been fighting a loose car all week," Anderson said. "We couldn't get the back end stable enough for her. We haven't mechanically balanced the car just right, and it's unnerving her."
It's not just Patrick's car that has struggled in Indianapolis. Her teammates, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan and John Andretti, haven't found their usual speed.
Kanaan crashed during his first qualifying run. The former IndyCar Series champion and Indy pole sitter did a 180-degree spin on the first qualifying lap, then had the car snap back around, slide up the track and hit the wall hard. He did not return to the track for the rest of qualifying.
"It's a bit similar with the other cars on the team, so I don't think she's fighting the situation alone," Anderson said. "I think Danica may be more descriptive in her feeling on the car, but I would say she's exactly correct."
Patrick finished fourth at Indy in 2005 and third last year, but she's struggled this year. She's in 16th in the point standings.
She wasn't even the fastest female qualifier for the 500 — two rookie women beat her. Ana Beatriz of Brazil will start 21st and Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland will start 22nd.
Patrick challenged her engineers to get it together.
"This is disappointing," she said. "None of us are OK with this. We all are generally saying the same things. I know that whatever it takes, the team will do. We just need to be uniform in what we want."
Anderson still believes Patrick can push her way up through the field on race day.
"She didn't forget how to drive," he said. "I think it's up to us to give her as a good a car under the new regulations as we gave her last year."