Patrick, who entered the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season with high expectations after finishing fifth in the standings last year, placed second in Saturday night's Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. If this had been any other IndyCar Series race, Patrick's finish would have been big news, but it was overshadowed by Dario Franchitti's third IndyCar Series title and Will Power's failure to hold on to his points lead.
While those two drivers provided the main storyline in a race won by Scott Dixon, the real battle was between Andretti Autosport teammates Patrick and Tony Kanaan as they fought over second place like the season championship was on the line. And while both drivers will admit that 2010 has been a disappointment, Patrick's second-place showing secured her the 10th position in the standings, while Kanaan's third-place finish allowed him to finish sixth in the standings.
"It's been a tough year," she admitted. "I mean, it's been very frustrating. It seems like it's a second or a 20th this year for me so that's very frustrating. But we kept focused. We revised things as we went to them. We said this isn't working for us; what do we need to do to improve? And we adapted as well. It's what you need to do as a team. And my mechanics kept their confidence in me. They did a fantastic job.
"These last two races at Motegi and here were a nice way to end the season."
While Dixon was running away with the race, Patrick was locked in a side-by-side battle with Kanaan.
"Hopefully Tony and I put on a good show for the end at least," Patrick said. "It was definitely a bit of a workout there. It was a hard 19 laps of racing at the end. I had a strong car. We cranked the front wing in it and they were able to bring it to life."
The two drivers admitted it was a tough battle, but it was certainly what they needed to end a frustrating season.
"[Kanaan] pushed up wide out of Turn 4 and I came down low. I had the momentum, I got underneath him," Patrick explained. "And his left front wheel, I looked, was right behind my right front wheel. So I was a little ahead of him. He said his spotter didn't call inside until he was into the side of me. It is what it is. I ended up getting by him and beating him. So I guess at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. But I kept thinking that our boss, Mike [Michael Andretti], was sitting in pit lane biting his nails like crazy, hoping his cars weren't going into the wall. Because [Kanaan] was definitely swerving over to intimidate me and move me up the track.
"It kind of reminded me of like Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter's finish at Kentucky last year, or I think maybe the year before that it was Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon or somebody like that here at Homestead."
Said Kanaan: "I clearly didn't see Danica on the inside that time. It was a great run. Putting on a good show was the least we could do for the fans here tonight."
Kanaan is the elder statesman at Andretti Autosport and commands the utmost respect from his teammates. But he also has a fearless and intimidating presence on the race track.
"It was not a great year for teammates getting along and being buddy-buddy," Patrick said. "He definitely raced me hard here tonight. But the point is that I beat him and that's really all that matters."
They didn't crash and both drivers were smiling after the race. Patrick said Kanaan apologized to her for coming into the side of her car on the front straight.
Patrick's second-place finish was the second time this season she finished in that position. She also finished second at Texas Motor Speedway in June.
"I think the end of that [Texas] race was definitely my best oval racing, probably," Patrick said. "Texas was a good race from a top-to-bottom perspective. We were strong all weekend in the race. We ran in the top 5 the whole time. And I really managed my car well in Texas. I also managed my car those last 19 laps [at Homestead], and I think that's what also attributed to me being able to pass them at the end, too, was I went low a few times down in 3 and 4 early on in the last 19 laps.
"I could keep it down there fine, but I just didn't have the run-off. It didn't have the oomph off the corner because you didn't exit the corner with the momentum from the wider radius. So I said, all right, we're just going to go up high for a while. Then we went high, and we went higher and then we went higher. Finally, by the end, I think that he might have been scrubbing some speed by sliding from trying to hold it down low. So I was able to capitalize on that and get underneath them."
Patrick's IndyCar is parked until 2011, but her season is far from over as she has six Nationwide Series contests left on her schedule for 2010, beginning next Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Competing in two different series has certainly been a challenge for Patrick, creating a packed schedule that may have lead to some of her poorer performances earlier this year. But Patrick can now focus on the six Nationwide races left on her schedule and only then can a reasonable analysis of her NASCAR efforts be made.
"Everybody in the garage is talking about what they are doing now that the season is over," Patrick said. "But I've still got two more months."
In 15 seasons of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Target/Chip Ganassi Racing has emerged as the team with the most championship wins under its belt.
Dario Franchitti clinched the title by just five points over Team Penske's Will Power in Saturday night's Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead. It was Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's fourth IndyCar title and it marked the first time the same team has won the IndyCar championship three seasons in a row.
"That's what we're here to do," team owner Chip Ganassi said. "We're here to win the championship. This business doesn't mean anything if you don't want to come here to win. If you don't want to win, I don't know why you're there."
Ganassi has had quite a season. He became the first team owner to win the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season as NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray won at Daytona and the Brickyard. Franchitti drove Ganassi's car to victory in the May 30 Indianapolis 500.
Ganassi's team also clinched the Rolex Grand American championship Saturday in the Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta.
It all adds up to the best year in Ganassi's career.
"I'm blessed with who I get to work with, and I'm honored to represent the companies we represent," Ganassi said. "With Dario's experience, obviously in this series, he knows what it takes to win a championship from the first race and that's a big advantage. And he's good at all the types of circuits we go to. Obviously he's been to most of them, if not all of them. So it's a big help in that area."
Undoubtedly, his inability to hold on to a 59-point lead over the final four races of the season will haunt Will Power during the offseason. But the driver vowed he will be back stronger than ever in 2011.
"I made my mistakes this year, but we win and lose as a team," Power said. "Some of the things are out of your control. And Dario is pretty good at dodging those. If you are always there knocking on the door, you always put yourself in the position to be in contention. So I'm going to be very determined next year, I want to come back and have as strong a season. Definitely stronger on the ovals, I know that for a fact."
Franchitti had a decisive edge on ovals over Power this season. Franchitti scored 295 of his 602 points on ovals, compared to Power's 185 of his 597 points.
Power has already started to shift his focus to next season. He showed that he is one of the top drivers in the sport this year and is determined to step to the championship level in 2011.
"You definitely look back and review the year and work out where you can be stronger," Power said. "Every time I leave a track, I think, man, if I ... I always come back to the track next year knowing where I've got to pick up time. And I usually do. That happens every year for me. So I seem to get quicker and quicker every time I go back to a track just from track knowledge. So I never stop thinking about motorsports. I never stop talking about it. I love it.
"And I'll come back and be very strong next year."
That is exactly what team owner Roger Penske wanted to hear from his driver.
"It was a tough ending to a good season for Team Penske," Penske said. "Will and the Verizon team did a great job all year. Our congratulations go out to Dario [Franchitti] and Chip [Ganassi] for winning the championship. We will be back strong next year."
Title winner Dario Franchitti knew that he was going to get pushed into the pool at the W Hotel. He was bumrushed by friend, Kanaan, when he was honored at last year's ceremony, so the three-time champion knew it was likely going to happen again. But this time, he had a plan and that included Chris Simmons, who pushed Kanaan into the pool after the Andretti Autosport driver rushed the stage and pushed Franchitti into the water.
A stunned and soaking wet Kanaan got a taste of his own medicine.
"Not only did Chris Simmons come up with a great setup for the weekend but he also threw Tony in," Franchitti said. "Perfect. That was great. I said to the boys before that Tony was going to throw me in. If they can stop him, great, but if not make sure he goes into the pool, too.
"That's two years in a row that I've gotten in the pool but I guess that's a good thing because it's two years in a row that I have won the championship. It's kind of cool. We'll have to find somewhere with a pool in Vegas next year."
Kanaan was stunned that he got pushed into the pool.
"Paybacks are hell, but when you play pranks on people you have to be able to accept those, too," Kanaan said. "I wasn't prepared for that at all. I knew the risk. The next time I get thrown in I want it to be because I won the championship. After all the years and all the pranks that I pulled I think it's going to be a bad prank when I finally win a championship. But that will be a good problem to have.
"Dario is amazing. His last name should be Dario 'Franchi-three,' not Franchitti. It's amazing and I'm very happy for him. He proved that he is a top, top, top race car driver."
After winning the championship and taking a dip in the pool, Franchitti spoke at length about rival Power.
"Will did a phenomenal job all season," Franchitti said. "The thing about any IndyCar season that I've been involved with there are the ebbs and flows all year. I kept the pressure on as much as I could and we saw the results. After I won the first IndyCar title in 2007 and went away and drove the stock car for a while I realized I really enjoyed driving these cars and I missed it. I came back and drove the Target cars which meant I had good equipment.
"Will and I saw each other for the first time after I got off stage and we had a quick chat. I can understand how disappointed he is not winning the championship. When you go through a championship battle together it ties us together a bit. I had that with Scott Dixon in 2007 and Scott and Ryan Briscoe in 2009. Now, I feel it with Will. It's like we are linked in a way."
Franchitti and Firestone Indy Lights champion J.K. Vernay -- along with other drivers, teams and manufacturers -- were recognized at the poolside ceremony. Phillips Van Heusen executive Mike Kelly, representing series sponsor IZOD, and members of the Hulman-George family presented Franchitti with a $1 million championship bonus check and the new championship trophy. In addition to the championship bonus, Franchitti accepted the $10,000 Bosch Platinum Award and received a $100,000 diamond-encrusted champion's timepiece from Ritmo Mundo and the Herff Jones Champions Award, a ring valued at $5,000.
"I'm just going to enjoy [this third championship]," Franchitti said. "I think I'm just going to let it sink in, enjoy it. I'm very proud of the achievement. And it's an absolute honor to get to drive for the Target team. That feeling of success is great."
"This isn't the seventh or eighth-grade girls' tennis team where everybody gets a trophy; this is IndyCar racing -- the top of the sport. Not everybody gets a trophy here. Everybody has the same rule book but there is a difference here between good drivers and bad drivers, good teams and bad teams. I'm sorry. Not everybody here gets a trophy." -- Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team owner Chip Ganassi when asked if there needs to be more teams in contention for the series championship.
After watching a thrilling conclusion to the IndyCar Series season, it's time to switch gears to NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. And while I won't be heading to Fontana, Calif., I will be paying close attention to a playoff where the top 10 of the 12 drivers are separated by the fewest points after the third race in Chase history.