Danica Patrick at Charlotte this weekend, instead of Indy 500 (interview)

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Racing on Memorial Day weekend will be nothing new for Danica Patrick. But for 2012, the car, location, track length and distance will be brand new for the Go Daddy Girl.

For the past seven years on Memorial Day weekend, Patrick has competed in the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And nowhere did Patrick perform better than in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” She burst onto the scene at Indy in May 2005 when she stunned the world by leading three times for 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first “500” – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race.

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The 96th Indianapolis 500 ushers in a new era

Perhaps what truly makes the Indianapolis 500 “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is tradition.

Indeed, few things change about the most significant annual event in motorsports. Whenever you enter the storied 2 1/2-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you often feel as if you have never left.

As firmly steeped in tradition as the 500 is — the festivities during the Month of May, the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race, the drinking of ice-cold milk in Victory Lane — one of those very traditions is evolution.

We’ll get just that in this, the 96th running of the race, which begins at noon Sunday. New cars, new stars, new hope — a new era.

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J.R. Hildebrand, Dan Wheldon and Crazy Indy 500 Ending (Video)

Are you familiar with the German word “schadenfreude?” It’s notoriously untranslatable because no other language has word for enjoying the suffering of others.

Then again, us Americans have reality show television. But we certainly saw this concept in action Sunday at the Indianapolis 500.

J.R. Hildebrand took the lead in the Indy 500 into the last turn when the rookie driver made a huge mistake. (You’ll hear the announcer say “he’s this close to winning the Indy 500”) In an attempt to pass, Hildebrand went and smashed into the wall.

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100th-Anniversary Indianapolis 500 Could be a Transformational Race

Call me delusional. Call me naive or caught up in the fanfare. Call me whatever. All I can do is go with a gut feeling.

And that gut feeling is that this Indianapolis 500, which falls on the 100th anniversary of Ray Harroun’s inaugural victory in 1911, is going to be different.

The centennial running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” which takes the green flag at noon today at the venerable Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has incredible potential compared to its predecessors of the last few years — maybe even the last few decades. Amidst honoring and celebrating the history of the Indy 500 and the opening of a gateway to a new era in U.S. open-wheel racing lies an opportunity to instill the excitement, the buzz that has been missing from this race for far too long.

By Drew Allen

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Indianapolis 500 Pole Day Preview