Castroneves, Patrick inspired by Indy 500's checkered flag for different reasons

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Danica Patrick will compete in the final race of her career, and Helio Castroneves will be challenging for his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory, but not lost among the story lines heading into Sunday’s race is the heat.

The temperature is expected to be in the low 90s for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday at the famed 2.5-mile oval, and drivers used their final hour of pre-race practice on Friday during Carb Day to make final tweaks.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner who will start Sunday’s race from the inside of Row 4, was quickest during Carb Day with a lap of 227.791 mph, while Scott Dixon, starting from the outside of the third row, was second at 225.684.

"I think this is the closest that we're going to get as far as weather for Sunday, so we tried to optimize that and run in the heat conditions and see what are we going to do," Kanaan said. "But really, if you haven't figured it out by today, you're in trouble."

Drivers ran 1,273 laps on Friday, an increase of more than 300 laps from Carb Day practice a year ago. This will be the first time the universal aero kit will be used on a superspeedway oval, so teams used the final practice to gather additional data.

"We ran through a couple of things we wanted to try after looking at the data from Monday's practice,” pole-sitter Ed Carpenter said. “Carb Days are hard, though. It's only one hour, then you have a couple more days to agonize over exactly how we start the race.

“The conditions are pretty similar right now to what we'll have come race time, so the session was good for that. I wouldn't say today was our best day by any means, but for me, we can rely on the work we have done over the previous week and a half. I've felt calm all week and I feel good going into the race.”

Patrick expects to be emotional saying farewell to racing with a final Indianapolis 500, but she is resolute in her decision.

“I am sure I’m done.” Patrick said Thursday during media day at the track.

But what if she wins the race? Would second thoughts creep in?

“I can't think of a better way to be done than if I win,” she said. “I'm good.  I'm totally good.  That always was my favorite part of the year.  This is my favorite month. 

"This is my favorite race.  I've been fortunate enough to have the most success here, I feel.  If I were to go back to IndyCar full-time, then it's all the stuff that I'm not remembering right now because they're not part of this month. 

“I'm good.  I'm good to end with a smile at a special place like this.”

Castroneves is now racing sports cars for Roger Penske, but he is competing in the Indianapolis 500 as a one-off.

Penske assured on Thursday that if Castroneves wins his fourth on Sunday, there will be a car for him in next year’s 500.

“It would be incredible (to win),” Castroneves said Thursday. “So many people are supporting different drivers, wear different T-shirts. All of a sudden, they are screaming, ‘I want you to win the number four, it would be so cool.’

“You can see people want to be part of history. I'm very blessed to be in this opportunity. Hopefully, as I say, their wish is my wish.  It would be a dream come true.”

It isn’t an easy transition to race in another series then step into an Indy car for the Indy 500 despite the amount of time spent here in May.

“It's extremely hard,” he said. “The car definitely has little different tweaks, I would say. Try to fix one thing, you create another problem.  Fix the other problem, now you create a different one.  I see everyone having the same kind of scenario. 

“In terms of difficulty, the good news is I've been in this IndyCar business for so long that tires, the car, even the seat is the same. It's kind of like I don't feel much of that. But when you're jumping in a new car, it would be awesome to be part of the testing program, that you can really spend time trying to understand. At this point nothing you can do.  Just got to drive, go for it.”

Castroneves has won three times and has been close to winning that elusive fourth several times the last five years. He was second in 2017 (by two-tenths of a second) and 2014, sixth in 2013 and seventh in 2015.

“Listen, I've been driving IndyCar for so many years, it's kind of like part of my DNA,” he said. “When there is an opportunity like Roger offered me there, was no doubt that I would be able to keep pursuing that dream. On top of that, having an opportunity to drive the Indy 500, it could not be better.  It will be great.  Give Roger and the No. 7 team, hopefully give the fans number four, too. “

Patrick finished her NASCAR career last year and his transitioned quite smoothly to a more “normal” life. Still, she has no idea what her future holds after Sunday’s race.

“I'm not there yet,” said Patrick, who will start from the inside of Row 3. “I don't know. I mean, I haven't raced since February.  I've taken vacations. I've worked on all my other businesses.  I've been preparing for this. This has been a lot of work. 

“But I make waffles on Sundays now. I have a thing on Sundays. That's pretty fun. In the summer, there's like farmers market. I can't wait for that.  I mean, there's going to be probably some new stuff that I don't know yet. The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress. 

"Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95 percent of that weekend. That's uncomfortable. 

“I tend to sign up for things that are uncomfortable just to test myself. I'm OK with less of that.  I'm OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I'm ready for that.”

She has enjoyed her position as a role model for women in racing, women in sports. She said fully understands how powerful it is to have a positive impact on people.

“I've never overlooked it,” Patrick said. “I've never said I didn't ask for it and I don't want it. I honor it and try to do a good job with it.”