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Robert Wickens named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year

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Robert Wickens helped end a disappointing month for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on a high note, finishing ninth to claim Rookie of the Year honors.

Starting 18th, Wickens steadily worked his way forward, getting near the top 10 in the opening 50 laps. However, a mix of pit strategies jumbled the running order midrace, causing Wickens to lose much of his track position.

And with overtaking proving to be very difficult, getting back up front was always going to be a tough task.

Regardless, the 29-year-old, along with the No. Lucas Oil SPM Honda team, took advantage of a late caution for Tony Kanaan’s Turn 2 crash to pit for fresh tire. The stop dropped them to 19th, but Wickens was able to charge back up into the top 10 by the checkered flag, eventually ending up ninth.

“In some ways I was hoping for more. In other ways it surpassed everything I ever could have imagined. It was one hell of a race. It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Wickens said of the initial Indy 500 experience.

Wickens explained further that a miscue on pit strategy, specifically pitting under a caution when many others did not, hampered their efforts significantly, and that a top five may have beckoned in the right circumstances.

“Unfortunately on one of the earlier yellows we came into the pits thinking everybody was going to do the same. Turned out we were one of the only ones that did it. Put us on an alternate strategy. We lost track position. Today track position seemed like it was everything,” he lamented.

Still, though disappointed not to finish higher, Wickens’ ninth-place proved to be a solid end to an otherwise trying month, and not only because teammate James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify – Wickens himself pounded the back straightaway wall on Monday practice after qualifying, which made pre-race prep all the more difficult.

“We had a little fumble on Monday when we hit the wall (on Monday practice). We made our lives a little bit difficult on Carb Day, into the race today not knowing exactly where our car was going to be. I thought we had a top five car all day. We were just stuck in the midfield for most of it, we just couldn’t make inroads forward,” Wickens finished.

Claiming top rookie honors continues a stellar rookie season for Wickens, who now sits seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, eight points behind Ryan Hunter-Reay for fifth.

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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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