Just four races into the 2013 season and Danica Patrick has already had one heck of a year. Although she did struggle throughout the day, she came away from Bristol with her best finish since Daytona.
Bristol was one of the 10 tracks that Tony Stewart picked for Patrick to run during her limited schedule in the Sprint Cup Series last season. During the Bristol Night Race, she was running on the lead lap until she was punted into the wall by Regan Smith. This wasn’t the case last weekend as she took to the track for the second time.
After a poor qualifying effort landed her a 41st place starting position, it was clear from the beginning that Patrick was going to have a long day ahead of her. She battled a tight-handling racecar the entire day and battled back from a pit-road speeding penalty to finish 28th, five laps down from the leader.
Her day was looking promising before the pit road speeding penalty with 150 laps to go. She was running in 25th position, only three laps down. A top 20 finish was not out of her reach until she was caught speeding in the last segment of pit road and had to make a pass through that ultimately left her in 30th position.
One thing that Crew Chief Tony Gibson has praised Patrick on is her feedback. Being able to make the right wedge and track bar adjustments as well as changing the tire pressure, Gibson and the team were able to loosen up the GoDaddy Chevrolet as the race went on.
“There are a lot of things that I have to work on at this point in time. For us, the most important thing is to find a decent balance to start off the race so that we don’t drop back,” Patrick said. “We’ve been really loose the last couple of races, so we wanted to make sure we were tight. So we decided that was our accomplishment today was to aim to be tight, and we were. So we probably didn’t need to, and, in fact, we probably kind of knew we were over-compensating. But we just never really got it completely freed up like we needed to. It was better later in the race, but by then the damage is done.”
Since Daytona, Patrick hadn’t finished above 33rd position so Bristol wasn’t a huge disappointment. Patrick and her team realize that there are going to be races where she struggles, especially with this new car.
The GoDaddy team heads to Fontana this weekend to take on Auto Club Speedway for the first time in a Cup car. Patrick has competed in four races at ACS with her first being in 2005 in the IZOD IndyCar Series. She later took to the track again (twice) in 2010 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series then again in 2012 where she failed to finish due to engine troubles.
Patrick herself calls this track “challenging” saying the pavement has not aged well. “It’s a challenge to set up the car – the seams move the car around a lot,” she said. “It’s very fast, yet you still have to get the car to rotate and it seems really tight off of (turn) two. It’s one of the tougher places to get the balance right. But if you do strike a good balance in practice, you have a chance to have a really good day on Sunday.”
Crew Chief Tony Gibson is optimistic about this weekend and thinks that the speed and style of racing should play into Patrick’s favor. One thing is for sure though, Gibson is proud of what his driver has done so far.
“What impresses me is that she takes what the car will give her and not drive over her head and get herself in trouble…(Last year) I saw her get herself in trouble and get frustrated and put herself in a bad spot. This year, she’s done a good job of not doing that and just taking what the car will give her and the situation around her and finishing and making laps. She got to learn and it isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a process for her just like any other rookie, so she’s just got to be patient with herself and it will come.”
Fontana is only the fifth race of the season and Danica Patrick still has a lot to learn but whatever this weekend holds, she can almost guarantee that Monday will be a good day. March 25th marks Danica Patrick’s 31st birthday and she and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have already begun celebrating with a trip back to Las Vegas and a concert with Country Superstar Shania Twain.
So whatever this weekend holds for Patrick, it will all be just another learning experience in the end and hopefully a good one. And with that, I think there is only one thing left to say.
Happy Birthday Danica Patrick!