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Patrick has Pole at Kentucky, Seeks First Win

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SPARTA, Ky. Danica Patrick says she's felt more like a "girl racer" in recent weeks, thanks to the media's focus on her story. But that could be a good thing for her at Kentucky Speedway, if history is any indication.

Since opening in 2000, the track has proven kind to female drivers like Sarah Fisher and Erin Crocker. Patrick, who will start from the pole today in the Amber Alert Portal Indy 300, says that's likely just a coincidence and doesn't think it will make much of a difference as the rookie seeks her first Indy Racing League series win.

Still, it can't hurt.

"There you go," Patrick said upon learning about the previous success of Fisher and Crocker at the track. "Let's all go home. I'm going to win this thing."

Then, a bit more seriously, she continued. "I wish it were that easy. But it wouldn't be very rewarding, would it?"

Fisher became the first woman in IRL history to win a pole when she did so at Kentucky three years ago. Last month, Crocker, an aspiring stock car driver, won the pole for the ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway and finished a strong second to Chad Blount in the race.

Patrick, driving a Honda for Rahal Letterman Racing, matched Fisher's feat last month at Kansas Speedway, which, like Kentucky Speedway, is a 1½-mile tri-oval track.

Patrick added another pole Saturday, when rain washed out qualifying for today's race. Patrick earned the pole based on combined speed from the two practice sessions Saturday. Her average speed was 217.516 mph, slightly ahead of series points leader Dan Wheldon, who averaged 217.500 mph and will start on the outside of the front row.

Before Patrick's emergence, such success by a female driver mostly made for a good trivia note. Now, people are paying close attention to drivers like Patrick and Crocker, taking them seriously and wondering when they'll win. But other drivers caution that it's not quite that simple, considering the experience level of the competition.

"I look back to when I was a rookie," said Wheldon, who has won seven series races. "You're up against guys that have been around, for not just a year or two, but you're talking 10 years."

Veteran drivers "are not stupid," he said. "They know this game inside out. You could have a car quicker than them, but when you're a rookie they can still beat you because they know every little trick in the book. No matter how good you are, experience is important."

How much so? Of the IRL drivers who have won at least one series race, it took an average of 33 starts to record that first win.

Only three full-time rookies have won an IRL race, the last being Tomas Scheckter, who won at Michigan in 2002 in his 11th career start.

The 23-year-old Patrick will be making her 12th career IRL start today. Still, since she whetted fans' appetites with her fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend, she hears the question about winning. She said her first win will come in time.

"I think we've definitely shown the ability to be fast," Patrick said. "We've shown the ability to run up front, to lead races, to qualify on pole. I think for me a lot of things have to come together at once. I need to have a good car. I need to qualify well. I need to have good pit stops. I need to make good decisions on the track, catch a break here and there."

BUSCH SERIES, at Watkins Glen, N.Y. Ryan Newman won a three-lap dash to the finish, holding off hard-charging Robby Gordon to win the Busch Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

Brian Vickers was third, followed by polesitter Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr., who boosted his series lead to 122 points over Clint Bowyer, who finished 15th.

Nineteen-year-old rookie Reed Sorenson remained third in the points but fell 219 points behind. He suffered a big blow to his title chances when his engine blew at the midway point of the race, leading to a 41st-place finish.

NEXTEL CUP, at Watkins Glen, N.Y. A rain shower forced cancellation of qualifying for today's Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen with 37 of 46 drivers having made their attempts.

Tony Stewart won the pole, Robbie Gordon was second and Jeff Gordon was third before the rains washed away qualifying. The lineup was then set by the order in the points standings. Stewart, the points leader, will start from the pole, Robbie Gordon was relegated to 39th, and Jeff Gordon will start 14th.

CHAMP CAR WORLD SERIES, at Denver Paul Tracy set a track record in winning the pole position for today's Grand Prix of Denver, edging Sebastien Bourdais by .109 seconds.

NHRA, at Brainerd, Minn. Oakdale's Eric Medlen continued his recent hot streak, qualifying at the top of the Funny Car category with a run of 4.730 seconds (327.35 mph) in his Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Warren Johnson (Pro Stock), and G.T. Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also led their divisions in the $1.6 million event.

CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS, at Gladeville, Tenn. David Reutimann won the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway, squeezing past Mike Skinner with two laps left and holding off Ted Musgrave by about two truck lengths.

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©2004 The Modesto Bee. All Rights Reserved.

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