Danica Patrick's week fizzles in Iowa

Jun 21, 2009 - 9:16 PM By LUKE MEREDITH AP Sports Writer

NEWTON, Iowa(AP) -- There was a lot of buzz this week about the possibility that Danica Patrick could make a move to NASCAR in 2010 - even though she's never won an IndyCar race on American soil.

Though she took her first lead of the season at Sunday's Iowa Corn Indy 250, the race quickly got away from the IRL's biggest name. Patrick recovered from a pair of flat tires at the start of the race and took the lead from laps 36-57, but wound up finishing ninth.

"It just wasn't our day," Patrick said. "We changed up our strategy a bit, which allowed us to lead a few laps. But then the yellows started to come out and we were at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Patrick and Dan Wheldon are the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in six straight races. Patrick is still fifth in the points standings, but she's now 52 points behind leader Ryan Briscoe and 23 back of Helio Castroneves for fourth place.

"If this is the worst finish we have this season, I can't complain," Patrick said.

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HELIO COMES BACK TO EARTH: Helio Castroneves had won two of the last three races, and he entered Sunday as one of the favorites after being awarded the pole based on entrant points. But Castroneves lost a front wing when he bumped Scott Dixon from behind early in the race and wound up seventh.

Castroneves lost the lead after 16 laps and never got it back.

"We just couldn't get the Team Penske car right today," he said. "It's difficult to get the car exactly the way you want it on a short oval when you don't have the opportunity to practice very much."

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WHELDON FINISHES STRONG: Dan Wheldon, who won at Iowa last year for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said earlier this week that his transition to Panther Racing hadn't gone as smoothly as he had hoped. But Wheldon took a step in the right direction with a fourth-place finish, his best since taking second at the Indianapolis 500.

"To finish fourth here with this level of competition is something we can build on," Wheldon said. "There's a bunch of good guys on this Panther team and they're all working very hard and I know we all want to get to victory lane together."

Wheldon moved within five points of Danica Patrick for fifth in the points standings.

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THE MUTOH COMEDY HOUR: Hideki Mutoh was in a jovial mood Sunday after finishing a season-best third. The 26-year-old Tokyo native had reporters in stitches after the race, when he was asked about his Andretti Green Racing teammates.

In his trademark broken English, Mutoh said that Danica Patrick "may sometimes seem angry, but she's not. She's really amazing."

Mutoh then said that he and Marco Andretti enjoy the "nightlife," and asked whether Andretti drinks sake, Mutoh joked, "I don't know what he drinking 'cause I'm so drunk!" Mutoh later added, "I'm kidding. We just drinking water."

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SPARKPLUGS: Former "Dancing With the Stars" champions Helio Castroneves and Shawn Johnson met on the track Sunday morning. Johnson, who won gymnastics gold in Beijing last summer, hails from West Des Moines, Iowa, about an hour drive from Newton. Castroneves gave Johnson a spin in the pace car, and Johnson also toured Danica Patrick's garage. ... The IndyCar Series and the Iowa Speedway said Sunday they're close to completing an extension that will keep the Iowa Corn Indy 250 on the circuit's schedule through 2011. ... Patrick expressed her concern about possible weather issues by posting a tweet at 10:05 a.m. that read "hopefully the rain is done! weepers on the track might be a problem though???" As it turned out, the track stayed dry.






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