TMS gets high mileage from Dan-Danica feud
IRVING — Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage considers promotion an art form. But it doesn’t take a Michelangelo to turn last weekend’s postrace spat involving Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon into a ticket-selling machine.
“It’s paint by numbers,” Gossage said.
And he’s taken long, broad strokes with his brush ever since Patrick stormed up to Wheldon on pit road after Sunday’s race at the Milwaukee Mile. Gossage has put advertisements in this newspaper billing Saturday’s Bombardier Learjet 550k as the “rumble at the speedway.” He sent e-mails to sea-
son-ticket holders and other fans hoping to entice them to buy more tickets. The “bout” is all he talks about. Who doesn’t love a good fight? Of course, the only punches thrown by Patrick or Wheldon were verbal ones. But each landed a few. Wheldon said Patrick was “just feeling the pressure of not winning races.” Patrick, who gave Wheldon a slight push but wasn’t fined this week by the IRL, said she told Wheldon, “If you don’t think I’m going to remember, you’re crazy.”
Patrick was angry because she entered Turn 4 three-wide on the 88th lap and was trying to pass Wheldon when he came toward the inside and clipped her. Patrick spun into the grass and bent her suspension, which cost her time in the pits for repairs. She finished eighth and wasn’t in contention for the win after that.
Wheldon’s car didn’t have any damage, and he placed third. Patrick thought Wheldon should have held his line. Wheldon said that the cars weren’t three-wide by the time he slid down the track and that Patrick had room to the inside and should have moved there.
Both drivers were in North Texas on Wednesday, and neither was backing down.
What bothered Wheldon the most was Patrick’s grabbing his arm as he tried to walk away.
“She put me in an awkward situation,” Wheldon said by phone on his way to an autograph session. “I thought she was taking advantage of her gender. I lost a little bit of respect for her.”
The Associated Press quoted Wheldon as saying that Patrick acted “like a spoiled brat” and that she “kept grabbing on me like a dog that wanted to bite my ankles.”
Patrick was at an Irving RadioShack on Wednesday signing autographs and chatting with fans as part of a sponsorship appearance for Motorola. She said that she wasn’t going to forget what happened with Wheldon, but that she wasn’t holding any grudges, either. She said she wasn’t going to let Wheldon turn his back on her until she finished speaking her mind.
“I don’t regret what I did,” Patrick said. “I said what I felt. Something needed to be said, and I said it.”
The drivers haven’t spoken to each other since and don’t plan on doing so before Saturday’s race. But both said their jobs are to run smart races and not worry about each other. Wheldon and Patrick didn’t have any problems with Gossage’s using the exchange to increase fan interest.
“Every driver likes fans in the seats, so if this helps, then that’s fine,” Wheldon said.
One fan in Irving had Patrick sign a boxing glove Wednesday. She laughed and told the fan to get Wheldon to sign it, too.
The whole exchange is great for the IndyCar Series. At a time when the hubbub of the Indy 500 has died down, the sport’s most visible driver has stirred things up again.
But it’s probably a one-week sideshow. She could make a more lasting impact if she won a race. She knows the pressure is mount- ing to do so. It’s been more than two years since her celebrated fourth-place showing at the Indy 500. Coincidentally, Wheldon won that race in 2005, prompting a Texas fan to give him a T-shirt that read: “I Actually Won the Indy 500.”
Patrick hasn’t finished better than fourth since then. And any excuses about her equipment not being good enough went away when she joined Andretti Green Racing — one of the big-three teams — this season. All three of her teammates have experienced the thrill of victory. Dario Franchitti won the Indy 500, Tony Kanaan has won two of the season’s first six races and Marco Andretti won once last season.
“I know that I can win,” Patrick said. “I’ve had my best races lately. I’m not waiting for things to happen, I’m making them happen. I think that’s all stuff that starts to happen when the win is getting closer.”
Gossage said he wants that win to come Saturday night. Can you imagine the kind of picture he could paint if Patrick hoists the winner’s trophy?
Danica Patrick confronted Dan Wheldon on Sunday after his car clipped hers at the Milwaukee Mile.
Dan Wheldon found himself in “an awkward situation” when Danica Patrick grabbed his arm during their recent quarrel. “I thought she was taking advantage of her gender,” he said.