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Patrick struggled to remain competitive, but her fourth-place finishes at Nashville and Milwaukee tied her career best Indy Car finishes.
At Michigan, Patrick's car ran out of fuel with three laps to go and she fell to 17th.
In 2002 Patrick started driving for Rahal Letterman Racing in the United States.
After making several starts in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, she moved to the Toyota Atlantic Championship for 2003.
She rebounded at Kentucky and Infineon to finish 8th in both races.
In her final race with RLR at Chicagoland, Patrick recorded a 12th-place finish and a 9th-place finish in the Indy Car Series Championship point standings, besting her 12th-place points finish as a rookie. At Kansas she had her best finish of the year at that point, finishing 7th.
After Watkins Glen, RLR switched to the Dallara chassis and the team struggled to adapt.
She holds the IRL record for most consecutive races running at the finish: as of October 2, 2011, she had completed 50 consecutive in the running (besting the record by 18). After attending the Women in the Winner's Circle Driver Development Academy, she was a guest of Lyn St. racing in British national series events against drivers including future Formula One world champion Jenson Button.
James at the 1997 Indianapolis 500 and was introduced to John Mecom Jr., a former winning Indy 500 team owner, who began following her career and arranged for her to go to the U. Being both American and female, Patrick was met with much opposition, but this experience helped her develop a stronger sense of independence and learn how to overcome adversity.
Patrick was subsequently passed by both Bryan Herta and her teammate Vitor Meira.
Patrick's fourth place was the highest ever finish for a female driver at the Indy 500, besting the previous record of ninth set by Janet Guthrie in 1977. On July 2, 2005, Patrick won her first pole position, leading a 1–2–3 sweep by Rahal Letterman Racing at Kansas Speedway.