News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Given to Fly

June 29, 2007

Given to Fly: IRL’s Patrick, Duno working toward respect in racing world

TERRE HAUTE — Danica Patrick hopped from fifth to No. 2 in Harris Interactive’s annual poll of most popular female sports star — the IRL’s Patrick is sandwiched between the two Williams sisters (Serena at No. 1, Venus falling from last year’s top spot to third this year).

Patrick has helped keep the IRL in the national spotlight outside of Memorial Day weekend and was up to seventh in the point standings before her crash in Sunday’s Iowa Corn 250 dropped her to eighth.

Indy Racing League rookie Milka Duno is still learning the IRL ropes and hasn’t had near the impact Patrick has on her sport. At least not yet.

Patrick led the Indy 500 in her rookie year of 2005. Duno has yet to lead a lap this year — Patrick has led all of three — and the Venezuelan failed to finish the inaugural Iowa race, which was only her fourth race in the IRL to no fault of her own (wheel bearing failure).

Duno, who was drawn to the IRL because of the prestige and challenge that comes with racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, admittedly has much to learn.

“I like a difficult challenge,” Duno said in Wednesday’s IRL teleconference. “Everything in my life is difficult because I like every difficult challenge. I like when I have to stay and work so hard to get what I’m looking for.”

But unlike Danica — who ventured to England at age 16 to race in the top junior series in the world — Duno never expected to be a race-car driver. Duno began racing in Venezuela in 1996 and by 2001 was the only female driver running a regular schedule in the American Le Mans Series.

Patrick gets more than her share of criticism for not finding her way to victory lane yet, but taking 12th in the points standings in her rookie year of 2005 was impressive. Duno has nine races to climb from her current place of 19th, but it looks like an uphill battle with veteran drivers in front of her in the standings.

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