Indy 500: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, top rookie press conference, part 1

Indianapolis 500 Second, Third, Fourth, Top Rookie Press Conference Sunday, May 24, 2009 2nd - Wheldon, 3rd - Patrick 4th - Bell Top Rookie - Tagliani PAT SULLIVAN: Tell us about working your way through the front, and what that was like for...

Indianapolis 500 Second, Third, Fourth, Top Rookie Press Conference
Sunday, May 24, 2009

2nd - Wheldon,
3rd - Patrick
4th - Bell
Top Rookie - Tagliani

PAT SULLIVAN: Tell us about working your way through the front, and what that was like for you?

ALEX TAGLIANI: First of all, the day started when I walked into Gasoline Alley and saw the grandstands the first time here on Race Day. So quite unbelievable, very, very happy that I had the chance to do this race. And, you know, for the team, they did a fantastic job on the car. Obviously, from where we were starting, we pretty much had no choice but to go for a little more downforce on the car, and I think that's why at the end of some runs some guys were struggling pretty bad with their tires and they were coming back to us. We made some ground and when I was unable to pass, I saved a lot of fuel in every pit stop; the guys did really, really good. Slowly but surely, we were going into the front, and at the end when we got into the pack with the top-10 runners, obviously it was a lot easier to stay flat all around for my runs because I was really stuck. And then it was harder for guys to pass us. So, you know, our day was pretty simple. Just like make no mistakes and stay out of trouble and continue to make some grounds toward the front and no mistakes in the pits, and that's exactly what we did. The team obviously in the stops with having to put less fuel from saving so much, we kept leap-frogging a lot of the guys and, girls and we got ourself into P11. So really good job, team effort.

SULLIVAN: It was a good team. Danica, you had one hell of a race. I was thinking about your rookie year when you had that battle with Dan Wheldon, and you two you were out there the latter stages of the race. We heard you talk; we thought perhaps an adjustment here and there, a chance to win, but awfully good day.

DANICA PATRICK: I was happy with my car the last run and the run before that, once I cleared a couple cars in the second to last run, and I think I got up to sixth or something at that point. I was just running flat-out all the way around, which I'm happy with because it didn't happen that much in practice.

But that was as a result of us being more in the proactive side of keeping the car on the ground and being ready for longer runs, being ready for traffic, being ready for lapped traffic. So we were pretty good. And then on the last stop the guys got me another couple of spots, and I was up to fourth. I knew there was something going on with Briscoe because he had been a good chunk back, and all of a sudden he was at the front. So that was what I thought was going to happen, something on fuel.

So when he pulled in, that was third, and I wish it would have been green the whole last run. Our car was really good on longer runs. Had a great restart on the last restart and awesome run out of (Turns) 3 and 4 and went instantly went to the outside of (Turn) 4. It was that good of a run. I just kind of stalled out, I just didn't have enough. I think that was the difference. That was kind of us being ready for the whole run, the whole race and not just the last run. So it seemed Dan was a little more trimmed out maybe because it just kind of run side by side all the way down into (Turn) 1. I thought I was going to pass him completely on the outside, but that did not happen. But it was a good job. Dan did a good job. He looked like he had a handful in front of me, and obviously with Helio winning, that's great for him and everything that's been going on with him for the last sort of, well, I don't know, year or years. So I'm happy to see him happy. And he's great for the sport. So congrats to Helio, he had this standout month, really. If you'd ask me who was going to win, I would have said Helio.

SULLIVAN: I think everyone felt that way, but awfully good run, Danica.

Q: Danica, it's maybe unfair for you to compare 2005 because you had a shot at the win but after the race you were not very happy, but now you've moved up.

PATRICK: Which one, '05 or this one?

Q: '05, that's my question. You've improved: This is your best Indy 500 finish. Can you compare how you've changed?

PATRICK: I think that I did my best to stay calm the first year, for sure. I'd have to say there are lots of parallels, actually. Once the car got to the front in '05, I was good there, I was fine. But back in traffic, I remember in the very beginning of the race I had some engine cuts happening and I dropped back to 10th, and I was nothing special back there. I was just hanging out. That's kind of the way it was this year. Once I was back in the pack, it wasn't anything special, and that's how I felt for the first half. But I think once the track grip came up enough where it came into me being able to be flat out there, I think that's when it made the difference out on the track and I could make passes happen. So, you know, and my crew did a good job. The pit stops were good. I mean, I'm happiest I've ever been with my team there.

But, you know, I mean, I have mixed emotions about both of them, obviously. I was happy with the day, I was happy with the '05 day with what happened, but to miss a win here -- and it's enough to just have a chance. If you can be there, that doesn't happen that often, but to miss it is even more like, oh. But, you know, what can I say? Helio was really fast and Dan did a good job, too. So they actually remember very similar.

Q: Danica, maybe as a third-place finish at Indy, does that fulfill the promise of the fortune cookie?

PATRICK: No, no, a win would have fulfilled. How many times do you get a fortune cookie tell you a four-wheel adventure is going to bring you happiness? Why would they even write that? Who has four-wheel adventures, I guess on a four-wheeler, but how great could that be? I would love to get a road course win, so maybe that's somewhere down the line. Actually, I love Milwaukee, which is coming up in a few days.

So I think it was a good day. I'm really happy. I wish it would have ended up a little bit better than what it did, but that's the way it goes here, and that's what makes this place so awesome and frustrating.

Q: The way the cookie crumbles.

PATRICK: Cookie crumbled at the third.

Q: This question goes to Alex Tagliani. Alex, did you feel after Bump Day and not having a ride, then having a ride afterward, that you would be sitting in 11th position at the end of the "500?"

TAGLIANI: Well, you know, in all honesty, you know, we definitely missed first weekend qualifying from the crash on Sunday morning. So that really put us back a little bit. And like the last weekend of qualifying, we qualified Saturday and we probably showed exactly what not to do, just went out there, you know, feeling safe and doing race trim all day long, and at 4:00 pulled the car in the garage and go to qualifying sim and basically run the clock down until we had no time to go put our lap in. Obviously, the car was quick. As a driver, you know the car is fast enough to compete in the field but, you know, from an exceptional situation we just got bumped and never seen before. It was not actually a Bump Day; it was a replica of Saturday because everybody pulled their time off. But in the race, you know, like obviously with the car we had, we just -- it was unfortunate that we started so far back and we had to put like quite a bit of downforce on the car because like in the last stint I felt like, you know, maybe a degree less on the rear wing and we would have been able to compete inside the top 10. The car was really, really good.

So I guess the consolation was to just win that Rookie of the Year trophy and showing that the team is not only good on road course now but is also pretty good on ovals.

SULLIVAN: Let's welcome the gentleman who ran second, Dan Wheldon. Looks like Dan and Danica were trading notes on the last run. That was pretty exciting stuff.

DAN WHELDON: Yeah, she's certainly a tough competitor. I think she's like a lot of those troops, she never gives up. So all credit to Danica. But I have to say I'm incredibly proud of the Panther Racing National Guard Team, and in my IndyCar career there's not many races where I've honestly left the track feeling that we've executed everything perfectly. And I have to say, I thought they did an absolute phenomenal job. The pit stops were just first class. I didn't have to do too much work on track because they kept making me spots up. It was one of those things at the end where I just didn't have enough for Helio. I was toward the end having to hold off Danica. But they should be incredibly proud of the job they did. Honda and Firestone yet again gave everybody very consistent engines and tires, and it was a good day.

Q: Danica, could you talk a little about what Michael (Andretti), how he helped you specifically during the race today? I'm interested, your first year when you got the good finish, led the race, the earth stood still afterward and it set off Danica mania and everything, I suspect this year it's just a good race car driver that ran a good race.

PATRICK: Thanks.

Q: Talk about that a little bit, too.

PATRICK: That's good. I'm doing my job. My job is to finish as high as possible and get as many wins as possible. So I'm actually glad about that shift. I'm glad that I'm not like, "Oh, my God, wow, third." I'm paid to do this job, so I wish it could have been a little bit better, like I said, but it was a good day overall, and it was 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.

So, you know, I'm glad that people are seeing it more like just a good finish from a good driver.

Q: How about Michael, what did he tell you?

PATRICK: Mike has done a fantastic job on the radio. As you guys probably know because you've been around racing, he's a passionate guy. He's, you know, he gets very into it, and I think in practice I see more of that even than in the race. In the race, he stays really calm, even on the pit stops I was looking over to him, and he was just standing very calm. That's very important. So when he needs to be on, he's on, and he's right. But I think he was just saying, he was telling me "good job" every now and again. You know, he was obviously telling me when to tune the fuel down and things like that, but I mean he did a great job on the radio. I think the most important thing from someone like that and basically a voice in your ear is that they are calm. They can't influence you because trust me, there's plenty going on to influence me on my own.

Q: Alex, I just wondered, I ran into Bruno this morning, had a couple of words with him. He's such a gracious guy. Now that the race is over, I wonder if you could tell us whether you got any help from him prior to the race after following qualifications and if you said anything to him in the interim. How did that go?

TAGLIANI: No, actually, not really any help. But just like a really good conversation with him on Sunday night, you know. Obviously last year after finishing fourth with the team in Australia, they decided that they wanted to build like a long-term program. They knew sponsorship was going to be the first big challenge, and we kind of like decided to work together. So at that exact time in 2008, I became kind of like the No. 1 driver for Conquest Racing. So when Bruno came, we worked on the car, they put the same setup. You know, he came up to speed really fast because of his experience here, and when the team decided that, made a mistake on Bump Day and we had the fastest car of Sunday, felt it unfair to let me miss the Indy 500, and they got me into the second car that was sponsored.

So the only conversation I had with him was just to thank him, to be understanding and that's all. After that just spent a lot of time with the engineers and get settled in in the second car and pretty much go forward from that.

Q: For Dan and Danica. Can you guys even begin to imagine what Helio's emotions have been like this month and a half, what he's gone through?

WHELDON: I can't imagine, to tell you the truth. You know, he's a first-class individual at the racetrack. You know, I don't really know him aside from that, but I think the best thing about it is obviously that's over and the guy has won his third Indianapolis 500, which is no mean feat. This race is incredibly difficult. You know, it's not just it looks obviously very individualistic with just the driver in the car, but there's so much effort that goes in. Even to the, you know, the families of the guys back at the race shop, you know, there's so much preparation that it's difficult, and he's handled himself very well in difficult circumstances. I've been very impressed with the way Roger Penske has handled the whole situation. I think that's why he's one of the most respected individuals, if not the most respected individual in the IndyCar Series and, you know, I think in business, in general.

So he was, I think, the deserved winner of this race certainly from what I saw. I didn't see how Scott and Dario were up close, but certainly at the end I didn't have anything for him. So he should be very proud, but that's taking away nothing from the team that I drive for. Like I said, I think they executed everything perfectly.

SULLIVAN: We're going to let Alex Tagliani go. Congratulations to you, Alex.

TAGLIANI: Thank you.

SULLIVAN: We're going to let Townsend Bell come in, fourth place.

PATRICK: Obviously, with all that's gone on with Helio, I saw him at Long Beach and just the kind of hug you get from him after what he's gone through, it was a different kind of hug. So I'm very happy for him. I enjoy him as a person. He's always been kind to me and, what I felt, respected me, which goes a long way. So I'm glad to have him back, and obviously he's great for the sport. So, you know, I'm happy to have him around. But he's pretty tough to beat, though. That's the only problem with it.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Alex Tagliani , Townsend Bell , Dan Wheldon , Roger Penske
Teams Panther Racing