The GoDaddy team went into this weekend with little expectations. Martinsville is known for being tough on even the most experienced veterans yet this Rookie driver finished 12th in her debut at the paperclip.
“I don’t know what to expect.” That’s what Danica had to say before she took her first laps at this small half-mile track. Her boss and car owner Tony Stewart said her first time here would probably be pretty comical, but bot was he wrong. Not only did Patrick finish higher than Stewart in Sunday’s race, but she was the highest finishing Stewart-Hass car all weekend.
Qualifying 32nd, it seemed like this was going to be another struggle for Patrick. Then during final practice, she shifted from 4th to 3rd gear and over-revved the engine. The Hendrick Engine Specialists decided it was in the team’s best interest to change it and start from the rear. It was not looking promising for the No. 10 and the race hadn’t even started yet.
Patrick had made it just 17 laps into the race when she spun in turns three and four and brought out a caution. The spin eventually put her 2 laps down to the leaders, but Crew Chief Tony Gibson kept his team and driver calm and rallied back.
Taking the wave-around on laps 242 and 288, Patrick got back on the lead lap, and drove the race of her life. By the closing laps of the race, she was P11 and ahead of her boss Tony Stewart. A little bumping and banging dropped her to 12th and that was where she would cross the finish line.
“I tried to guard the inside right there at the end and then (Brian) Vickers gave me a bump, and I get it,” She said in the post-race report released on her personal website. “I was trying to defend and hold my position. We still came away with a 12th-place finish. I think you take what the car gives you… And my car was pretty good all day. We kind of bounced around from being a little loose to a little tight, but we got the GoDaddy Chevy back up there. We obviously went down real early with that spin and were two laps down at one point in time. So I feel like that’s almost one of the things I’m most proud of is coming back from two laps down to being on the lead lap and then grabbing a 12th place at the end.”
Her Crew Chief Tony Gibson was impressed with his driver, even crashing the end of her post-race interview to give her a hug and high-five. “I figured if we could finish top 25 and be a couple of laps down, it would be a miracle,” Gibson said after the race. “I never dreamed this. I knew after Saturday and Friday that we had a good Go Daddy Chevrolet. I knew she was capable of doing it… To be able to go through all that beating and banging and survive and finish 12th is unbelievable.”
At the end of the race, it seemed like there were many notable people who were impressed with Patrick’s run at Martinsville (see tweets below).
@SherylCrow: Way to go @DanicaPatrick finishing 12th! #NASCAR #martinsville
@HollyCain: Interesting. @DanicaPatrick 12th place in 1st trip to Mville is better Mville debut than @tonystewart @JimmieJohnson & @RustyWallace #NASCAR
@DanicaRacing: . @JimmieJohnson just sent his spotter over to tell @danicapatrick ‘s spotter that she’s doing a heck of a job. First time @MartinsvilleSwy
Patrick and the GoDaddy team head to Texas this weekend and according to Gibson are testing there this week before the race. Patrick has visited the Wild Asphalt Circus multiple times both in IndyCar (8) and in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (4). Texas was also one of her 10 Sprint Cup Series races last season and was the first race in which she was paired with Gibson and his team. In her only Cup start at this track, she started 32nd and finished 24th, which at the time was her best finish in the series.
Texas is one of those high-banked and high-speed tracks which play well into Patrick’s skill set and coming off of the great run at Martinsville, both her and her team’s confidence is high. The races leading into the summer stretch should also treat Patrick well. After Texas, she heads to Kansas and in three weeks, another superspeedway at Talladega.
Hopefully her great run at Martinsville is just the start of GoDaddy teams’ uphill climb. Patrick is still a Rookie in the Sprint Cup Series and really, in NASCAR as a whole. She still has a lot to learn and a lot to experience but with all of the seat time she will be getting in the coming weeks, she will be more than prepared to tackle these tracks when the Sprint Cup Series returns to them later in the season.