Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – The season-opening round of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2014 calendar is in the books, with Will Power opening the year on top.

Here are some of the other associated quotes and storylines following Sunday’s race. See Saturday and Friday’s notes and quotes linked in this sentence.

  • P2 for Ryan Hunter-Reay equaled a St. Pete best, also achieved in 2009 following a last-minute concluded with Vision Racing. In his usual No. 28 DHL Honda stead for Andretti Autosport, Sunday’s was a little more normal. “It was a good day; a little strange at times. Not really sure where we were at times but we just hung in there position wish and kept pushing 110 percent and just had a good little fight with Helio (Castroneves) there and got by him,” said the 2012 series champion.
  • Third for Helio Castroneves made it three podiums, in three different positions, in the last three Firestone Grands Prix of St. Petersburg (won in 2012, second in 2013). “I will take it. Obviously I started the race, the qualifying was a little tricky for us but I knew I had a very fast car, no question. And I was pushing as hard as I could during the race. Unfortunately, one of the restarts was a poker game with Will. But you know its ok, its good,” said the driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
  • Defending series champion Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud grabbed the other top-five spots; for Dixon, it was a rather nondescript weekend filled with good points, while Pagenaud overachieved after a disappointing qualifying to grab a season-opening fifth place.
  • Polesitter Takuma Sato ended seventh, one spot better than in 2013; this after qualifying one spot better too (2nd/8th, now 1st/7th). Still, a solid points day. “The first stint I had a nice rhythm going but we struggled a bit on the blacks on the next two stints, but we tried hard. It was difficult to gain on the track today. After a great qualifying, we’re a little disappointed with the finish but we came away with some points for the ABC Supply team,” he said.
  • Your big movers on the afternoon? Justin Wilson ended eighth after starting 16th and Josef Newgarden a St. Petersburg-best ninth from 22nd and shotgun on the field. Graham Rahal had a big start too, advancing 10 positions in the early stages from 21st up to 11th; the National Guard Honda driver ended 14th.
  • Sneaky good finishes occurred for Sebastian Saavedra in 11th and rookie Mikhail Aleshin in 12th. Aleshin being top rookie in the results was a bit of a surprise considering Carlos Munoz and Jack Hawksworth’s respective qualifying efforts of seventh and eighth, and Carlos Huertas’ near immediate adaptation despite the late call to drive Dale Coyne’s second car. Munoz ended 17th, Huertas 18th and Hawksworth 21st after being eliminated in a restart accident.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya ended only 15th, but learned a lot in his open-wheel return. “We were just burning up the rear tires with the setup that we decided to run. It was just a little too aggressive. You know, we will learn and pass some people and some people passed us. There are a few things we have to do better but I didn’t feel my pace was too bad there at the end,” said the 1999 CART and 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion.

Danica Patrick to sign off driving career at 2018 Indy 500

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With her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now coming to an end, following the end of the 2017 season this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick is embarking on a new path in 2018 with the two biggest 500-mile races in North America.

Patrick confirmed plans to participate in North America’s most marquee 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, during a press conference today in Miami. A team for the Indianapolis 500 has not been determined, and her options for the Daytona 500 are limited to NASCAR teams with three or fewer full-time cars, because a four-car full-time team cannot enter a fifth for the Daytona 500.

Patrick ended her full-time career in IndyCar after 2011 to head to NASCAR. She drove 10 races in 2012 before her first full Cup season in 2013, where she won the pole for that year’s Daytona 500 and ultimately finished eighth.

Her Cup career has seen her finish between 24th and 28th in points with seven career top-10 finishes, all between sixth and 10th place. She ranks 27th heading into this week’s finale too.

It was her IndyCar career though where she first entered the national conversation after a few years of apprenticeship driving for Bobby Rahal’s Barber Dodge and Formula Atlantic teams. A fourth place finish in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 with a number of laps led launched her into the racing stratosphere and helped produce the Indianapolis 500’s biggest rating in years.

Ultimately her best finish in the ‘500 in seven starts was third place in 2009, behind Helio Castroneves and the late Dan Wheldon.

She won at Motegi, 2008, for her first and only win in IndyCar.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 29: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Team GoDaddy Dallara Honda, makes a pit stop during the IZOD IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 29, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

A visibly emotional Patrick announced this was the end of her full-time driving career to kick off the press conference, but switched to her future plans once she got through the opening remarks.

Patrick “never thought” she’d do the Indianapolis 500 again but when tossing around future ideas, the concept of running both Daytona and Indianapolis came up.

“I never thought I would do it. I always thought never, but I never said never. Here I am,” she said.

“Out of my mouth came, ‘What about Indy?’ That was really the first sort of idea that got me excited. Let’s do it. I called Haley (Moore, longtime PR rep). What did I just say I would do? She said, ‘Hell yes that’s a good idea.’

“I’m still surprised.”

Patrick will need to participate in the Indianapolis 500 refresher program for drivers that aren’t full-time drivers, so that will provide her a couple hours additional track time before practice opens to the full field in mid-May.

The new 2018 Dallara universal body kit comes into being this year too, and Patrick thinks she has improved as a driver over the last six seasons to be able to come back.

“(Going) 240… it’ll be no problem,” she deadpanned. “It’ll take a bit of adjusting. It’s different for sure. But I think I’m a better driver now. It’ll take a bit of acclimating. Yeah, I would like to get in a car before I get to Indy.”

Patrick said running the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 “could” occur with her same teams she last ran with full-time, Stewart-Haas Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively. But her options remain open for both.