Third-place Danica Patrick has best finish at Indianapolis 500

“I’m doing my job,’’ Danica Patrick says after starting 10th in a car that had speed issues.

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“I’m doing my job,’’ Danica Patrick says after starting 10th in a car that had speed issues.

Top women in Indy 500

Year Driver Fin Laps

2009 Danica Patrick 3 200

2005 Danica Patrick 4 200

2006 Danica Patrick 8 200

2007* Danica Patrick 8 166

1978 Janet Guthrie 9 190

1992 Lyn St. James 11 193

1997 Lyn St. James 13 186

1996 Lyn St. James 14 153

2009 Sarah Fisher 17 200

2007* Sarah Fisher 18 164

1994 Lyn St. James 19 170

2008 Milka Duno 19 185

* rain-shortened race

INDIANAPOLIS — It wasn't a watershed moment, a Sports Illustrated cover story day, a coming of age for a woman in motorsports.

But in other ways this was a better Sunday for Danica Patrick than her smashing 2005 rookie season. She took an Andretti Green Racing car that was less than ideal throughout the month of May and turned in a career-best Indianapolis 500 finish — third.

That's one spot better than her run when St. Petersburg's Dan Wheldon won in 2005, though that season she led 19 laps for Rahal Letterman Racing and effectively kicked off "Danicamania." That car qualified fourth and was fast all month. This year her Dallara-Honda started 10th and was never as fast as Helio Castroneves and other expected contenders.

"For the tough month that we had and just how we had to keep our heads down so much of the time, it ended up turning out pretty well," Patrick, 27, said. "I'm doing my job. My job is to finish as high as possible.

"I'm glad that people are seeing it more like just a good finish from a good driver."

Heartbreak: Patrick's run was the highlight of AGR's day. Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan had afternoons to forget, which for them is becoming commonplace at Indy.

Andretti, who has finished second, third and an upside-down 24th at the 500, crashed on the first lap with Mario Moraes. The KV Racing 20-year-old, who started alongside Andretti in Row 3, appeared to be at fault.

"It's totally disappointing," said Andretti, who returned to the track for 54 more laps and was scored in 30th. "That kid is in way over his head with where he is now. I'm sitting next to him and he just drives up into me."

Kanaan's day also ended in a crash, with a faulty part apparently to blame. As he ran third on Lap 97, his car snapped down the backstretch, smashing him into the wall. He sailed into Turn 3 and a second hard impact.

"I went for a wild ride," said Kanaan, 27th. "At this point (after the first impact), I rested my head on my headrest and closed my eyes, I knew it was going to be a big one. It looks like I just got beat up big time."

Painful day: Vitor Meira, two-time runnerup, including 2008, ended his day in a hospital with two fractured vertebrae.

On a Lap 134 pit stop, his A.J. Foyt Racing No. 14 was engulfed in flames after a botched refuel. A scary moment was quickly averted as safety crews doused the flames — soaking the car and Meira in an extinguishing agent — and he returned to the track on the lead lap.

On Lap 173, fellow Brazilian Raphael Matos, impressive earlier in getting up to fourth in his first 500, got into Meira at the end of the frontstretch, sending both into the wall. Meira's car climbed the wall skidded on its side along the wall for a couple hundred yards while pointing the wrong way.

IndyCar officials said Meira will spend the next two days at Methodist Hospital, where doctors plan to fit him for a back brace. He does not need surgery. Matos had a bruised right knee.

Third-place Danica Patrick has best finish at Indianapolis 500 05/24/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 24, 2009 9:49pm]

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