NEW YORK – The only rest Danica Patrick (search) had during her whirlwind trip to New York was the several minutes she spent Monday in the middle of tumultuous Times Square posing for a photograph.
Besides the usual cacophany of lights and tourists, Patrick's rare moment of peace also inlcuded the other 32 drivers in this year's Indianapolis 500 (search) and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Dressed in her blue, white and red-trimmed racing suit, the only female driver in Sunday's Indy field took her place behind pole-sitter Tony Kanaan in the second of 11 rows — mimicking the race order.
They all fell in behind Powell, who will drive the pace car, and Kanaan's green and white open-wheel car on a small concrete island between Broadway and Seventh Avenue as dozens of photographers and an overflow crowd of gawkers with picture phones brought traffic to a trickle in the heart of Manhattan.
Then the colorfully adorned drivers wended their way back to a nearby hotel without so much an off-glance from passers-by in a neighborhood accustomed to all sorts of odd sights.
The 23-year-old Patrick flew to New York with Kanaan on Sunday night — the other 31 drivers arrived together Monday morning — and by the time she appeared on her boss' talk show, "Late Night with David Letterman," Patrick completed about 25 interviews in 18 hours.
"There's only so much I can handle, and we definitely max it out, so I just need some time to do the bare essentials like eat and sleep and shower and stuff like that and drive the race car," Patrick told Letterman, who's a co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing (search). "Because unless I go out there and do well, there's no story."
The feisty 5-foot-2, 100-pound Patrick is well aware of her appeal as just the fourth female to earn a spot in the Indy 500 and takes the responsibility seriously. But she's no slouch behind the wheel: Her qualifying speed of 227.004 mph was fourth fastest, earning her the top starting position by a woman in the race's history.
And so far, her fellow drivers seem to be supporting her overwhelming popularity.
"She's very talented. I think she's impressed us all. When we put our helmets on, it doesn't matter," said Scott Sharp, who qualified one spot ahead of Patrick and will start in the first row. "I think it's great for the league."
Patrick, a rookie, feels she's earned the respect of her fellow Indy Racing League (search) drivers, finishing fourth at the Indy Japan 300 (search) last month. And she knows the publicity is good for the IRL, which is vying for coverage with several racing leagues, including the powerhouse NASCAR (search).
"I know Tony (Kanaan) and Helio (Castroneves) were saying, 'If they're watching her, they're watching us,' and that's the point," Patrick said. "I want it to be big. I want people to feel what we feel out there. It's great for all the drivers."
Endlessly energetic, Patrick bounded from interview to interview, an answer at the ready for even the most mundane question. But when her impending chat with Letterman was brought up, she became quiet and eyed a sandwich and some vegetables she was desperate to eat.
Seemingly stumped, she suddenly perked up.
"It's gotta be good, it's David Letterman!" she said. "I'm going to thank him for my job."