IRL: Michigan: Rahal Letterman preview

PATRICK CRAFTING SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON FOR RLR HILLIARD, Ohio - Danica Patrick heads to Michigan this weekend with consecutive fourth place results matching her best IndyCar Series results. Patrick has posted nine straight running results and...

PATRICK CRAFTING SOLID SOPHOMORE SEASON FOR RLR

HILLIARD, Ohio - Danica Patrick heads to Michigan this weekend with consecutive fourth place results matching her best IndyCar Series results. Patrick has posted nine straight running results and is second in the series in laps completed (1623) since St. Petersburg trailing only Scott Dixon.

The sum of this picture is Patrick is ninth in the championship with a pair of top-five results and six top-ten finishes. A year ago when Patrick was winning the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors she posted a pair of top-five results and seven top-ten finishes while winning three poles and leading 63 laps.

"The season has been difficult at times, but the results of the hard work are starting to show," said Danica. "The chassis change and losing the advantage of having a Honda when others didn't has certainly been part of the growing pains we as a team have endured. We finally seem to be coming to grips with the chassis and we are starting to make the gains we thought we would make. To be honest I wasn't sure we would see the fruits of our labor this quickly, but if we can run at the front we will put ourselves in a position to win."

Patrick has posted nine straight running results, the second longest streak in the series. Patrick has been known throughout her career as someone who will consistently finish races. At one point during her career in Formula Atlantic Patrick finished 20 consecutive races and she was the only driver to complete every lap the series ran during the 2004 season.

"The thing I am most proud of this season is the face we have been able to eliminate the little mistakes that plagued us last season," said Danica. "Certainly we have caught some breaks in the recent weeks that have helped us, but I am a firm believer that you make your own luck and we have put ourselves in situations that have allowed us to take advantage of those breaks."

A year ago Patrick tied the IndyCar Series record for poles by a rookie as she started in the top-four on eight occasions. This year Patrick has qualified in the top-four only once, at Homestead the race RLR withdrew from due to the Paul Dana tragedy.

"The Panoz chassis was a great car for qualifying but problematic when it came to the actual race," said Danica. "There have been several factors in our qualifying results this season. We lost three qualifying sessions to weather early in the season which meant the grids were based on points or practice times. That hurt us. Our challenge recently has been in making the car fast enough for qualifying. Milwaukee was a great example of how we struggled in qualifying, but the car was great in race set-up."

With an average starting position of twelfth, Patrick has had to fight her way through the field this year as opposed to last year when her average starting position was eighth.

"Nobody puts higher expectations on my performance, than I do," said Danica. "I have always been my harshest critic and nobody wants to win more than I. In the grand scheme of things I am still very early in my IndyCar career. On the average it takes a driver 33 races to earn their first win and that takes me into next season. Every week I am doing the best I can and trying to maximize what I can get out of the car. The last couple of weeks we have started to see the results that we expect. Hopefully we can stay up front and one of these weeks that top-five finish will turn into a win."

RICE PRIMED FOR STRONG RUN AT MICHIGAN

Two years ago this weekend Buddy Rice won at MIS, solidifying his then hold on second place in the championship and pulling him to within 60 points of the championship lead. That was the last time Buddy Rice and RLR won a race. The last two seasons have been a roller coaster of highs and lows for Rice, but the 2004 Indy 500 winner remains upbeat entering the final four races of 2006.

"We haven't had the best luck lately, but I feel good coming into Michigan," said Rice. "We have had a good race car on the big tracks lately. I believe we can race in the top five at MIS. That track is wide and allows for good drafting. With all of the cars now having Honda power, the field should be pretty equal. I have to admit that it was nice to race at Michigan with Honda power. We always had an advantage. Now, we'll have to get the car to work in the draft. The Rahal Letterman guys have been progressing nicely with the Dallara chassis. We have continued to learn more with each race. It was fun to win there in 2004 and I think we can be competitive again this time."

TOP-10 STREAK SEND SIMMONS TO MIS WITH MOMENTUM

Three straight top-ten results for Jeff Simmons have jump started the rookie driver's season. Simmons is shooting for his fourth straight top-ten this week in the No. 17 Team Ethanol Honda/Dallara/Firestone.

"The start of the year was not good for Team Ethanol," said Simmons. "But things have turned around now with three straight top ten finishes. I believe we can get the Dallara in position to run in the top five now. Buddy and I have been working hard on setups and we have shown recently that we are closer to the front. Danica has two straight fourth places and the team is moving in a good direction right now. Personally I enjoy the MIS track. It is wide and it makes for some great side-by-side racing. With all of the cars with Honda power, the drivers will have to work with their engineers to gain more speed this weekend. All in all, I feel we have a good chance to race in the top five."

Simmons posted an IndyCar Series career best finish of seventh at Nashville two-weeks ago and started a career best sixth last week at Milwaukee.

-Rahal Letterman Racing

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Dixon , Buddy Rice , Jeff Simmons , Paul Dana , Danica Patrick