'Danica Day' a media frenzy

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- They call it media day. But they might as well call it Danica Day.

On Indy Thursday, each driver sits in front of a poster of themself in a curtain-enclosed area in front of a round table and fields 45 minutes of random questions.

You did't have to inquire where Danica Patrick was sitting. A mass of perspiring media people formed around her, bulging the curtains.

Danica Day has been held here every year since she first showed up in 2005 and became the sensation of the nation in open wheeled racing.

There's Danica Patrick billboards everywhere here, and several trailers offering merchandise with her likeness. At least one of those trailers will no doubt be making the trip north for the Rexall Edmonton Indy in late July.

"It was big in '05," she allowed of the first year of Danica Mania, when she set numerous records en route to becoming the highest finishing woman in the history of the Indy 500.

That year, she started fourth and finished fourth and held the lead three times for a total of 19 laps.

But now she's a winner. In Japan earlier this year, she finally won an IndyCar Series race. That it happened when her Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition spread was still on the stands didn't hurt, either.

Despite the attention she's had in the past, she says that win has made it very different here this year.

"I feel like I'm getting more attention this time. It's getting difficult to go anywhere. There's a herd of people waiting outside the door of the garage for autographs. I can't remember that happening before.

'SO SUDDEN'

"In 2005, it was so sudden. Since then, sponsors have marketed me and used my image a lot and I just had a sort of mega media tour in New York."

Helio Castroneves of Dancing With The Stars fame, a driver who has actually won the Indianapolis 500, not just once but twice (2001 and 2002), would have second billing. But he's not the star of this show.

Castroneves had nowhere near the crowd at his location.

"That's not up to me," he said of Patrick's popularity being greater than a two-time winner who will start on the inside of Row 2, with Patrick in the middle and Tony Kanaan on the outside.

"The public makes it. You guys make it. You guys have a lot of power. That's why I try to speak carefully and from the heart."

The thing about Patrick is that she gets it. She totally understands her appeal.

TRIPLE THREAT

"I'm a triple threat," she said. "I'm popular with kids, with the 18-34 age group with women as a role model and with men for several reasons, including looks."

She's also media friendly.

"I really value this," she said of the gathering. "I'm not one of those drivers who will say 'I'm tired, I don't feel like it.' I understand that one day this will be gone. Someday I'll be a nobody."

Will she?

"I hope not. I hope I'm not completely forgotten when I quit racing.," she said, adding she expects to do other things after racing, such as gettinginto the fashion business and owning a winery.

"I don't know if I'll still be in the car when I'm 40. I know I'll have to have something to do or I'll drive my husband crazy and go crazy myself."

But for now, it's all about racing.

"Winning races is the most important thing right now. The biggest attention always comes from doing well on the track," said the 26-year-old, who has that fourth place finish and two eighth-place finishes in her three previous races here.

"When I was just a kid, I wanted to win the Indianapolis 500. That seemed way out there for a kid. But everything that has happened has been toward that. If you don't have that dream, how are you going to get there?"

She definitely has a shot at winning on Sunday.

"I've been fortunate to be on the first few rows every year. The start is pretty calm from up there.

"I'm always nervous every time I race here. The better I'm doing, the more nervous I am. I'm going to be more nervous this year than ever before."


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