For the second time in her IndyCar career, Danica Patrick took a late lead at the Indy 500 and needed fuel concerns to resolve themselves to have a chance at taking the checkered flag. And just like in 2005, Patrick's 2011 Indy 500 bid literally ran out of fuel a little too soon, leaving her with a 10th-place finish.
Patrick's day was a tedious drive to the front at first. She dealt with slowly wearing her car into tip-top shape and picking off drivers one by one through the first three quarters of the race, and eventually moved into the teens in the later goings. That only led to more Indy 500 frustration for the series' most famous driver.
Patrick's team gambled on a fuel-conservation strategy by pitting on Lap 159 and hoping for two things: enough green flag racing for Patrick's car to regain the form that had her running strong late, and a caution to give Patrick a chance to fill up before the finish. She got the former, and led 10 laps after taking the lead with 20 laps to go. But Patrick couldn't stay in front of Bertrand Baguette as her fuel drained, and eventually had to pit.
That last stop left her racing to make the top 10 — which she did, at 10th, giving her six top-10 finishes at the Indy 500 in seven starts. But for Patrick, who seemed to be in every other commercial during the race, consistency isn't a problem; she's long proven that she can compete on the IndyCar circuit when her cars are strong.
The issue is that the big breakthrough victory at the race she dreamed of capturing as a child continues to elude her. And while her public statements about staying in IndyCar while learning NASCAR-style stock car racing are all well and good, continued struggles to stand out in open-wheel racing will only fuel more discussion about whether she's not long for it.
For more on Danica Patrick and the Indy 500, stay with our 2011 Indy 500 StoryStream. Be sure to head over to Pop Off Valve for all things IndyCar, including the three excellent Indy 500 resources: The Indy 500 experience, Indy 500 traditions and the history of the Indy 500 and the Brickyard.