IRL: Patrick, Fisher headline Kentucky weekend

This weekend's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series event at Kentucky has no shortage of story lines. The championship battle couldn't be tighter, with only 56 points separating series leader Helio Castroneves from 5th-placed Vitor Meira. Sarah...

This weekend's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series event at Kentucky has no shortage of story lines. The championship battle couldn't be tighter, with only 56 points separating series leader Helio Castroneves from 5th-placed Vitor Meira. Sarah Fisher is making her return to the series following a two-year absence. And Danica Patrick looks for redemption from her late-race exit at Michigan and a repeat of her pole position from a year ago.

What Patrick doesn't need to search for anymore is sponsorship for the upcoming season. She signed with Andretti Green Racing at the end of July, squelching rumors she would leave IndyCar and head to NASCAR. Today AGR announced a $21 million contract with Motorola to be emblazoned on Patrick's car. In a sport where sponsorship is harder to come by -- look no further than Meira's blank sidepods for Panther Racing -- it marks a banner deal for a team that already has several strong supporters. Motorola has been out of full-time sponsorship since 2002 but has a history with Michael Andretti dating back to 2001. They backed Andretti's Champ Car effort for those two seasons.

While this announcement is for the future, Patrick wants to focus on the present. "I don't think these distractions are great for the people I'm with now," she commented on a conference call. "But it is business, and it happens every now and again. There was a lot of speculation and I had to answer the same questions over and over again. But that's over with now."

One reporter asked whether this major sponsorship deal was a "check-off" on her career chart to which Patrick responded, "I wouldn't call it a check- off. I just feel like this move leads to a check-off. I have a better opportunity to win at Andretti Green Racing."

Fisher has never enjoyed the same marketing success as Patrick, despite her on-track achievements earlier this century. Fisher has done especially well at Kentucky, with a pole and 3rd place finish from four starts. In her career she bounced around with midfield teams Walker Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, the team she returns to this weekend. D&R was a contender almost every race when she first joined them but fell into the midpack following an influx of teams from Champ Car in 2003.

I asked if that had anything to do with her move to NASCAR, driving in the Grand National West division for Richard Childress Racing the last two years. "I had got a call from Childress at a function - even before I ran the '04 (Indianapolis) 500," Fisher said. "I worked it out. I'm still young and I love to race anything."

But regardless, this is still an opportunity she is taking advantage of despite a long absence. Patrick's prosperity so far in the series has not dampened Fisher's enthusiasm. "Seeing her is no different than anyone else. She's done a lot for the league. When I ran, I had my own media coverage. Now she has her own - so it's no sting to me."

And Fisher is giving back to the fans as well. The three-time winner for the series' Most Popular Driver was unable to have her helmet painted for this race due to the late announcement. So at the series' autograph session, all the fans will sign the helmet until it fills up, and Fisher will then wear that during the IndyCar series' 12th event of the season.

All in all, these two women, and 17 other drivers, will line up for the Meijer Indy 300 presented by Coca-Cola and Secret at 3:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Sarah Fisher , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Dreyer & Reinbold Racing , Richard Childress Racing