Danica Patrick relieved with Indy 500 qualifying pace after tough start

Danica Patrick is "relieved" to have exceeded her expectations in making the 'Fast Nine' for the Indianapolis 500 because she felt off the pace in her first day of testing

Ed Carpenter Racing's Patrick narrowly made the top nine on the first day of qualifying after Andretti's Alexander Rossi's second attempt fell just short in 10th.

It marked a turnaround from her initial return to IndyCar, where she passed her veteran refresher test late in the day and found the car hard to drive and its steering heavy.

In the four days of testing prior to Saturday's qualifying, she was never higher than 12th fastest on the timesheets.

Patrick says her early lack of pace made a Fast Nine slot all the more surprising, ahead of the final race of her career.

This [top nine slot] exceeded it [expectations]," she said. "I have high expectations for doing well here.

"That's why I was fortunate enough to be able to drive for Ed. They always have great cars, especially here at Indy. They're always very strong.

"But to think that I was going to come back and be in the Fast Nine right off the bat - I was doing 208mph [laps] at the test the first day and thought: 'I might not be able to do this'. 228[mph] is much better."

Patrick added that while she was relieved to make the top nine, it was difficult to assess the competitive picture.

"I'm definitely relieved. The tough thing is that I feel like there's so much race running as well as qualifying sim running," she said.

"There's not that much qualifying sim running, mostly race running.

"There's a bit of a question mark how fast people are, at least from my perspective, [and] also getting familiar with the new combinations and drivers. I didn't really know.

"Having done 228[mph] with three-quarters of the track ahead of me open, I got that feeling like, 'All right'.

"At the end of the day, it was very stressful. So I'm looking forward to a fun day. I was just getting familiar."

Patrick ensured that all three ECR cars made it into Sunday's Fast Nine, with Ed Carpenter the second fastest driver on Saturday.

Carpenter added he was proud of ECR's result and the fact it gave Patrick a strong platform for her final race.

"We were really happy to put Danica in a great position for her final ride and be a part of that history," he said.

"If all three cars have a chance for the pole, it is truly a testament to the team and how hard they work, how dedicated they are, and what a good group we have.

"It really is a team effort to have three cars that are as close in performance as we are.

"When you look across the paddock and how hard it is in this field, not all teams can do that."

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