Talladega was supposed to be Danica Patrick’s change to shine after weeks of less than stellar finishes. What was looking to be another possible top-10 finish was flushed down the drain after a miscommunication over the radio left her one lap down and in 33rd position.
Patrick started the race mid-pack after qualifying was rained out. Jumping in behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., Patrick quickly made her way towards her plate track comfort zone, the front of the pack. With few caution flags, the race had multiple green-flag pit stops and at a track like Talladega, green-flag stops means that the lead pack has to all pit together.
Green-flag pit stops means that the crew chiefs and spotters need to coordinate with each other as to when to pit in order to all stay with the lead draft. On lap 161, Patrick was in the middle of the draft on the high side of the racetrack when several of the lead cars began to slow and head to pit road exiting turn four. From the high side of the racetrack, Patrick attempted to get down to the bottom lane and slow to the 55-mph pit road speed mandated by NASCAR.
Just moments before, Patrick’s spotter had relayed that they would be pitting with the leaders on two laps, misinformation that cost Patrick a strong run. Patrick overshot pit road, slid through the grass and missed her pit stall. The error forced her to make another lap before pitting, and then Patrick had to serve a drive-through penalty as her initial entry onto pit road was faster than 55 mph.
“We just didn’t communicate well on that final pit stop,” Patrick said in a comment on DanicaRacing.com. “We were on the high side and couldn’t get down to where we needed to be to pit. We were trying to pit with the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.). I know it’s a challenge for the spotters – you’re trying to work with other spotters on when to pit and obviously keep track of the on-track stuff. It’s a lot, and it’s happening fast. You have a split-second to make a decision, and we should have made another lap. We weren’t where we needed to be. You need to be on the bottom when you’re pitting, and we didn’t do that. We’ll discuss it and learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s disappointing, and none of us feel good about it. You win as a team and lose as a team. It’s tough for everybody. The GoDaddy guys gave me a great car.”
This weekend, the series kicks off the final 4-week stretch of the season at Martinsville Speedway. Patrick shocked the racing world earlier this season when she rallied back from two laps down in the spring race to finish 12th in her first start at the track. Going from the biggest track on the circuit to the smallest could pose a problem.
“Two extremes going from Talladega to the short track. I had a great car in the spring at Martinsville…” Patrick said. “It’s a short track and those leaders are on you very quickly if you don’t have a good qualifying run. Qualify better and let it play out from there. Having never been at Martinsville before, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that it was going to be a little bit crazy. I think you take what the car gives you. Tony Gibson (crew chief) has a really good track record there. People talk about the race result but a lot of the time forget that we spun early 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.”
During first practice Friday at Martinsville, Patrick wheel-hopped her pink No.10 GoDaddy Chevy and crushed her left-rear quarter panel. The team brought out the backup car and got her back on track before the end of practice.