CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Katherine Legge had at least one supporter in her corner when she showed up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week.
AJ Allmendinger and Legge have known each other for more than a decade, dating to their early days in open-wheel racing. Legge hadn't seen her old friend in several months, so she made a trip out to the speedway to visit with Allmendinger during preparations for his first Indianapolis 500.
Once at the speedway, she got wind there might be an open seat available in Sam Schmidt's third car. Legge went after it aggressively with Allmendinger cheering her on.
"She had nothing, she basically just came out to the track to see me," Allmendinger said. "So she hung out, and then basically began piecing that whole deal together by herself."
Legge had an IndyCar Series ride last year with Dragon Racing, which ran her in 10 of the 15 events after an engine manufacturer change forced the team to share one car between Legge and Sebastien Bourdais. She ran her first Indianapolis 500 and finished 22nd.
Then Dragon decided to make an offseason driver change, replacing Legge with Sebastian Saavedra, and Legge has accused the team of stealing the sponsor she brought to Dragon. It left Legge without a job and not enough time to put another deal together. She snagged a deal to test the DeltaWing, which led to her racing it at Laguna Seca in early May.
Legge and co-driver Andy Meyrick finished third to give the DeltaWing its first podium in the American Le Mans Series.
From there, Legge headed home to Indianapolis and then out to the track to visit with her old buddy Allmendinger. Then she got busy putting a ride together for herself.
"She went to the series, she went to ABC for an in-car camera, talking to Firestone, talking to Honda, talking to Sam himself — she did that whole deal by herself, and pieced it together, and she didn't have sponsor money," Allmendinger said. "There were people there who had sponsorship who wanted to get in the car. I was so proud of her to see her work through that."
The deal with Schmidt wasn't completed until Saturday.
"I was texting her Friday night, 'What's the news?' she said 'I don't know.' Saturday morning, she still texted she didn't know," he said. "Then Saturday afternoon after my first qualifying, she came over and said they were putting a motor in. 'I'm getting in the car.'"
Rain washed out Legge's chances to drive on Saturday, so "Bump Day" was her first opportunity. She ran in the morning and qualified the car, an effort made easier when Michel Jourdain Jr. wasn't able to make a qualifying run.
"I don't care if there was one car to bump out, she hadn't been in an IndyCar since (2012 season finale)," Allmendinger said. "So to jump in and go run 223 mph takes some (guts). I am so proud of her, for getting in the car, and for doing that whole deal without anyone's help.
"Obviously she got a raw deal from the last deal she got, for her to do that, that was awesome and I am so happy for her. So yes, I am a huge Katherine Legge fan."
Legge was rewarded Monday when Angie's List signed on to sponsor her Indy 500 entry.
"It's great to see so many women on the track this year," said founder Angie Hicks of the four women in Sunday's race. "Katherine has proven to be a relentless competitor with a razor sharp focus on what she wants to accomplish. We really respond to that kind of spirit around here at Angie's List, so we're thrilled to partner with her."
DRIVER OF THE YEAR: With three wins in the first 11 races of the Sprint Cup Series season, Matt Kenseth was an easy winner Wednesday in first quarter voting for Driver of the Year.
Kenseth received 10 first-place votes and 110 points from media members across the country to beat IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian won two of the first four IndyCar races this season, and received one first-place vote and totaled 55 points.
Kenseth seemed surprised to win the award, and credited new team Joe Gibbs Racing.
"It's always an honor whenever you're selected for any kind of award from the media or the fans," Kenseth said. "I never even thought of receiving this award, so it's pretty cool to have been selected for this. There's really not a lot that I can take credit for, though, because it's truly a testament to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and how fast the cars are that they've given us to start the season off with.
"I feel like all three of our JGR teams have been fast and competitive at every track this year and capable of winning each week. We have a really great group and I think that we learn a lot and work together in order to be successful."
Kyle Busch, one of Kenseth's teammates, finished third with two first-place votes and 50 points. Takuma Sato, the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race, also had one first-place vote. A total of 15 drivers received votes.
In its 47th year, the Driver of the Year polls 18 media members. Four panelists did not vote in first quarter polling.
ANNETT'S BACK: Michael Annett has been cleared to race again after missing eight races following an accident in the Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona.
Annett broke his sternum in the February accident. He was sidelined for three months, and has spent the last three weeks in physical therapy. An MRI on Monday this week determined he was ready to race again, and Annett will run this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"Obviously, I can't wait to get back into the No. 43," Annett said. "It has been a long three months, and I am more than ready to jump back in the car. The accident at Daytona was disappointing for our team, but I'm very grateful for the amount of support I had from the team, NASCAR, family, friends and fans and not to mention the outstanding medical team that helped me through all of this.
"While it was really hard to be on the sidelines, I realize that it was even more important to heal properly."