KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) – Danica Patrick’s first Indy Racing League pole proved to be the only highlight of her day.

Patrick battled mechanical problems and fell off the pace early, and defending series champion Tony Kanaan won a late duel with Andretti Green teammate Dan Wheldon to win the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 on Sunday.

Patrick, just the second woman to start from the pole, finished ninth at Kansas Speedway.

“The biggest nose won,” Kanaan said after his first victory of the season.

With only three cautions and the last 61 laps of the 200-lap race under green, Wheldon’s strategy of pitting earlier than the rest of the field appeared to have him headed to his fifth victory in eight races this season.

The points leader and Indianapolis 500 winner took the lead with three laps to go, when defending race champion Buddy Rice had to pit.

But Kanaan, who pitted in the 190th lap, went ahead on the next lap and then held on to beat Wheldon by .012 seconds – the sixth-closest finish in IRL history – for his fifth career victory.

“I love Tony to bits. I’m glad he beat me instead of somebody else, but losing like this is difficult to take,” said Wheldon, who led 111 laps after struggling to find speed all week and starting 11th.

Vitor Meira, running just behind the leaders, made a last-second dive to the inside, crossing below the white line, but still came up third. It was the only bright spot in an otherwise disappointing day for Rahal Letterman Racing, which took the top three spots in qualifying and hoped to match last year’s one-two finish.

“It would have been nice to finish up front, where I think the car was fast enough to finish, but I worked so hard today,” Patrick said. “I basically raced side by side for 200 laps. I did all that I could.”

Dario Franchitti, another Andretti Green racer, was fourth, followed by Tomas Scheckter, Scott Sharp, Darren Manning, Helio Castroneves, Patrick and Rice.

Patrick, who joined Sarah Fisher as the second woman to win a pole after qualifying first Saturday, lost the lead to Rice on the opening lap and dropped to fifth in the second. She got as high as fourth late in the race, after falling as low as 15th, but never challenged for the lead.

“On the start, there’s nothing I could have done,” Patrick said. “It was foot to the floor. I couldn’t run fourth gear, and fifth gear was so long that everyone passed me.”

Patrick’s engine also cut out on her once, and she had problems getting away from pit stops because her crew had her traction control turned off.

But winning the pole was the latest in a string of firsts for Patrick. In May, Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500 and placed fourth, the best finish by a woman in the 89-year history of the race.

AP-ES-07-03-05 1602EDT

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