AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Danica Patrick is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, more proof of her higher profile since she became the first female winner in IndyCar history last month.
Patrick, the Indy Japan 300 winner on April 20, has qualified fifth for the Indianapolis 500, making her one of the favorites for the IRL's biggest race.
Al Larsen, spokesman for AGR, said the SI cover is especially significant because it comes before the May 25 event. Her other SI cover came after the 2005 race, when she finished fourth as a rookie -- still a record finish for a woman at Indy.
"To land on the cover of SI in advance of the Indianapolis 500 pushes us into the mainstream sports scene," Larsen said. "It was a great tribute to her to be on the cover for her breakout performance (2005), but it's great to be on the cover before the race. It's a sign of respect from the mainstream media."
Larsen said Patrick has granted more than 200 interviews since the win.
"It's been nuts," Larsen said. "Danica has been a champ through all of it, even with little time and not a lot of sleep."
The win also likely will pay off in terms of endorsements for Patrick, who already does well in that department.
"From a marketing standpoint, we've been getting calls from a lot of corporations, some of the biggest companies out there, wanting to be associated with our brand," John Lopes, chief marketing officer for AGR, said.
Since the win, Patrick has appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" and other network programs.
"It's great," Lopes said. "To get her out there helps us tremendously from a marketing standpoint. It reinforces the fact that she transcends the sport. She's a pop-culture icon."
CHARITY CAMPOUT: Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien have joined forces with several local media members to help raise money for the Wheeler Mission, an Indianapolis group that helps provide food and shelter for the city's homeless.
A different media participant will camp out for five consecutive nights with civic groups, corporate sponsors and individuals on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield, beginning Wednesday. They're hoping to raise more than $250,000 as part of Operation Restoration, a program designed to help refund Wheeler Mission's coffers.
"Operation Restoration will help raise critically needed funds to support Wheeler and those they serve," Dungy said in a written statement. "They're not just giving handouts, they're restoring lives and helping men and women become spiritually whole."
IRL founder and speedway boss Tony George is scheduled to camp out Wednesday night.
Other celebrities supporting the campout include actor Jason Priestley and longtime IndyCar veteran Jim Freudenberg, co-owner of Rubicon Race Team; Indianapolis Indians general manager Cal Burleson; George's wife, Laura; and one person from each of the four Indy TV stations, along with Terri Stacy and Jake Query of radio station WIBC.
SIMMONS' HIGH HOPES: Last week, Jeff Simmons didn't even have a ride in the Indy 500. Now, he's talking about winning.
Simmons has been hired to drive the second A.J. Foyt Racing entry in qualifying this weekend.
"You can win this race from pretty far back," he said. "There's guys that have done it before, and you can make your way forward. ... Hopefully, we can get up into the top 15, but you can go anywhere from here."
The car originally was assigned to Foyt's son, Larry Foyt, who instead will focus on his job as team director.
The 31-year-old Simmons, whose best finish in three previous starts at Indianapolis was 11th last year, will drive the No. 41 Dallara as a teammate to Darren Manning, Foyt's full-time driver.
Simmons drove for Foyt in the developmental Indy Lights Series in 2004, finishing second in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis. He moved up to the IndyCar Series the next year and drove the past two years with Rahal Letterman Racing. His best career finish was sixth last year at Texas Motor Speedway.
"There's a relationship already there with A.J., and I'm just glad he's taken the chance to give me another opportunity," Simmons said.
GIEBLER'S BACK: Phil Giebler, last year's top rookie in the Indy 500, will get a chance to apply what he has learned.
Giebler, who finished 29th after qualifying 33rd last year, is excited about the chance to qualify again after crashing in lap 106 last year. He'll drive the Gardner Trucking American Dream Motorsports No. 88 car.
"It's hard to put into words what it means to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500," he said. "I had a huge learning curve in my rookie run last year, but I plan on being much better this year. To say Indy's all I've thought about for the last 12 months would be an understatement."
GRAHAM DIES: Arthur W. "Art" Graham III, director of timing and scoring for the Indianapolis 500 for more than two decades, died Monday. He was 67.
Graham introduced many of the timing-and-scoring procedures now used in American open-cockpit open-wheel racing during his tenure here, from 1978 and 1997. For many years, it was traditional for an all-night audit to take place, with the Indianapolis 500 results not being officially posted until 8 a.m. on the morning after the race. Graham updated the Speedway's computer system, and by the late 1980s, results would be posted shortly after the finish.
The Columbus, Ind., native was a lifelong racing enthusiast who has recalled watching the first live television coverage of the 500 in 1949 on a tiny screen through an appliance store window. He first became involved with the United States Auto Club in 1965, and eventually became chairman of the rules committee. In 1982, he was named to USAC's board of directors and remained in that position until 1997.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed to this report.