NASCAR & Auto Racing

Patrick's struggles continue with poor qualifying performance

LEXINGTON, Ohio -- That win earlier this year in Japan must seem like a long time ago to Danica Patrick.

Since her first IndyCar Series victory on April 20, Patrick has mostly struggled to be competitive. Her fifth-place finish last Saturday night at Nashville was her first top-five since Motegi. And Patrick was hoping it would be the catalyst for a big finish to the 2008 season.

"That is the kind of stuff that I would, should, could be doing every weekend," she said Friday before the first practice. "It has been a tough year for me, really. We just haven't really settled on good race cars and we have missed it in the races. We were a lot closer to it at the race at Nashville."

But, if Saturday is any indication, the Honda Indy 200 may be just more of the same struggles that she has faced so many times in the past three months.

Patrick, who started a career-best second here a year ago, was 11th in the morning practice at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

After getting out of her car, Patrick quickly walked to where Milka Duno, the only other woman racing here this weekend, was pitted and confronted the less experienced driver about getting in her way several times during the practice.

The confrontation lasted only about a minute, but witnesses said it grew heated and that Duno flung a towel in Patrick's direction at one point as the two exchanged words. Patrick eventually walked away.

Patrick, who has previously confronted fellow drivers Dan Wheldon and Ryan Briscoe after racing incidents, brushed off the latest dustup, saying, "I just wanted to know if she saw me out there."

Duno was not immediately available for comment.

Things didn't get better for Patrick after the confrontation.

She failed to get past the first of three rounds in the knockout-style time trials and will start 20th on the 26-car grid in Sunday's race. Duno qualified last.

"The car was pretty fast during practice this morning, but I was unable to find the speed that I needed during qualifying," Patrick said. "I'm disappointed that I didn't qualify better, knowing that I started on the front row last year.

"But there are some areas of the course where I will be able to make some passes. It's a long race, so, hopefully, I can work my way up the field."

STRONG RUN: Justin Wilson kept his record intact as the only one of the nine drivers transitioning from the defunct Champ Car World Series to the IndyCar Series to make it into the final six at each of the street or road races so far this season.

Wilson, who was 19th in the morning practice session at Mid-Ohio, found some speed in the afternoon and will start fourth in Sunday's race.

"I was asking if we would make the top 12," the Englishman said. "We made a change to the setup overnight and it wasn't right, so we went back on the change for qualifying. It just means we are a couple of steps behind."

He qualified third at the street race at St. Petersburg, Fla., won the pole for the Champ Car finale at Long Beach, and qualified second two weeks ago on the road course at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

But Wilson said his Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team, a seven-time champion in Champ Car - formerly CART — is still at a disadvantage in getting used to the cars and tracks in the new series.

"We haven't tested at this track or on a road circuit yet, so we are on a steep learning curve," he said. "I'm really pleased with the way we came back to get the McDonald's car in the top six again. It's great. I felt we had a little more time we could get out of the car. It's just a little tricky to drive and I couldn't quite get it all out.

OLD FRIENDS: After former open-wheel champion Gil de Ferran won the pole on Friday for the American Le Mans Series race at Mid-Ohio, Helio Castroneves knew he had better win the IndyCar pole on Saturday.

"If I didn't win the pole, I knew he would give me a hard time," Castroneves said of his former Penske Racing teammate.

De Ferran, a two-time CART champion, won the pole here in both 2000 and 2001 while racing in that series. His latest Mid-Ohio pole came after he returned from a two-year retirement to form his own ALMS team.

Castroneves, who won the pole last year in IndyCar's inaugural Mid-Ohio event, easily made it two in a row on Saturday, holding off new teammate Ryan Briscoe.

"This morning, I told (team owner) Roger (Penske) about what as great chance we had to start on the front row with both cars, and we did it," the Brazilian driver said. "Team Penske did a great job. Now we just have to do it again tomorrow."

Castroneves finished third last year.

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