By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS -- An exhausted Danica Patrick spent nearly 50 minutes Thursday smiling, joking and explaining everything from her future plans to her new image.
The 26-year-old never even yawned.
Yes, the first woman to reach Victory Lane in a major race and the unquestioned queen of the Indy Racing League, actually enjoyed playing the role of deft politician during Thursday's Indianapolis 500 media day.
"This is something I have to take advantage of because you guys are watching, and the whole world is watching," said Patrick, who will start fifth in Sunday's race. "I'm not one of those drivers who sits back and says 'I'm tired, it's not worth it' because I know one day I won't be popular."
That's certainly not the case now.
It has been a grueling month for Patrick at the 2.5-mile track. Aside from her full-time job, driving the No. 7 car for Andretti Green Racing, she's been the most requested driver for interviews, television appearances, charity dinners and sponsorship events.
Thursday morning, she was back on the morning shows before stepping into a Super Bowl-style cauldron of questions. The subjects ranged from when she would next travel to Brazil to her political leanings. Although Patrick didn't disclose her choice for president, she did admit that like most Americans she's fed up with gas prices.
Just reading the bookings is a tiresome chore for her teammates.
"I really appreciate the way she does things, because I would not want that for me," former series champion Tony Kanaan said. "I need my time to think about my race car, I need my time to work out. I just need my time."
That's in short supply for Patrick after last month's historic win in Japan.
"Winning was always the goal; it was really one of the only times I put 'girl' into my vocabulary -- like it would be nice to be the first woman to do that," Patrick said. "What it changes is things on the outside like the media, the endorsements and the fan attention. It doesn't change me as a driver."
DON'T FORGET KANAAN: Brazilian Tony Kanaan was happy to allow teammate Danica Patrick to steal Thursday's show. He's saving his best material for Sunday.
Over the past five years, Kanaan has finished 12th, fifth, eighth, second and third at Indy, and watched teammates Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti pull into the winner's circle.
This year Kanaan's starting sixth, the worst qualifying position he's had in seven Indy starts, and will be on the outside of Patrick in the second row.
Those who are counting him out, however, might be making a big mistake.
"Let's put it this way," the 33-year-old Brazilian said. "They can talk to her as much as they want, but following the race, you're going to have to come talk to me."
BACK TO LONG BEACH: The Long Beach Grand Prix now has a spot on the IRL calendar.
On Thursday, IRL officials and race organizers agreed to a five-year extension that will keep the race intact, albeit with a new sanctioning body after this year's Champ Car-IRL merger.
"We're extremely happy that the IndyCar Series will continue our tradition of being America's greatest street race," said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the race. "We're delighted that many great drivers will be returning to our streets, like Helio Castroneves, who won our race in 2001, and Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, both of whom competed here often."
No date has been set for the race.
THE FRONT ROW: England's Dillon Battistini and Australia's James Davison will start on the front row in Friday's Firestone Freedom 100.
Battistini won the pole for the developmental series race with a two-lap average of 188.397 mph, while Davison was second at 188.390. Both are rookies.
"It's quite challenging, the most challenging oval I've been on," Battistini said. "It gives me a great shot at winning tomorrow, but it's a fantastic achievement in and of itself."
Wade Cunningham, the 2006 winner, will start third, and Arie Luyendyk Jr. will start 18th.
Jeff Simmons, who's also racing in Sunday's Indy 500, will start 10th, and Al Unser III, son of two-time winner Al Unser Jr., is starting 19th.
CELEBRATING THE 100TH: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will celebrate its 100th anniversary with events starting next year and wrapping up in 2011.
The festivities include a gala and balloon festival next year. Speedway officials say a new highway interchange will create a new entrance to the Town of Speedway, while a redevelopment project will encourage development in the area.
The speedway also plans to create a "Centennial Era" logo that will be used at the IMS from 2009 to 2011.
The speedway was built in 1909. The first competitive event held there was a balloon race in 1909. The first Indianapolis 500 was held in 1911.