600 grueling miles and over 5 hours of racing left the GoDaddy superstar with a disappointing 29th place finish.
The Coca-Cola 600 runs on Memorial Day weekend and on a day where Danica Patrick used to find herself amongst the Indy 500 festivities, she now finds herself sitting back and watching, for the second year in a row.
Last season marked Patrick’s first season away from the IndyCar Series and her first time missing the race that made her a household name in 2005. This year, it was no different. Although Patrick has said she would love to return to the Indy 500 and pull the “double,” her focus right now is entirely on her NASCAR career.
Sunday was Patrick’s second attempt at NASCAR’s longest race, the Coke 600. Last season, she started 40th and finished 30th. This season, she hoped to improve immensely on that result. After a 24th place qualifying effort left her both pleased and starting ahead of her boss Tony Stewart, the GoDaddy team was optimistic, until it happened.
During practice, Crew Chief Tony Gibson broke the news that there was an oil leak in the engine and they would have to change it which in turn put Patrick at the back of the field for Sunday’s race. Fighting her way up front with a great racecar out together by her team, Patrick was well on her way to her first top-20 finish on a mile and a half track this season.
Things were looking promising, until lap 319. Shortly after a restart, Patrick was in the middle of a three-wide battle when she made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski. Stenhouse moved up the track at the same time Keselowski came down on Patrick, which sent her nose first into the turn three outside retaining wall and into Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford and ultimately led to extensive damage to her racecar.
With heavy damage to the right front of her racecar, Patrick made multiple trips down pit road for major repairs. The wreck took her out of 21st place and she ended the day 15 laps down in 29th.
“We obviously started from the back, and track position was really important here at Charlotte,” said Patrick in a press release. “We fought our way back to trying to be in a position to be on the lead lap. I felt like we were making real progress and starting to get the car to a place that was really good and had an accident, which is unfortunate because we were moving up. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. We just need some luck.”
Her Crew Chief Tony Gibson agrees. “Our car was really strong all day – probably one of the best cars we had had since Kansas. Pit stops were good. Danica did an awesome job. All we could do was get the car fixed and try to finish the race and go on. We will build on the high stuff from tonight. We had a good car. We’re showing some strength. We’re making our stuff better during the race, and that’s what we’ve got to do.
This weekend, the team moves on to the Monster Mile that is called Dover International Speedway. Patrick made one of her 10 Sprint Cup Series starts here last season, starting 38th and finishing 28th. She has also made three Nationwide Series starts and also a bit of history at Dover. In September 2010, Patrick started 13th and finished 6th in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Dover leading three laps and becoming the first female in the series to do so.
Stewart-Haas Racing was involved in a teat at Dover earlier in the month which allowed Patrick to get in some precious laps that will help her in this weekend’s race.
Dover is fun. It’s fast and it can make for a really long day of racing,” she said in a press release. “I think that’s part of the appeal of it – how demanding it can be. We definitely want to stay out of trouble, which is easier said than done at these types of tracks.”
Throughout the summer stretch, Patrick will encounter a majority of tracks that she has yet to visit in a Cup car, including the eluding road courses. As the summer months hit in full force, Patrick will be ready with her notebook and pen, absorbing information like she does best.
Listening to Patrick’s radio through the duration of the Coke 600, there is one thing that sticks out in my mind that Gibson said to her after the wreck that I think we can all apply to some aspect of our lives, racing or not, and it goes like this:
“I told Danica that one day we’ll be the windshield and not the bug. We’re making progress. We’re making gains. We just have to be ready for when it’s our turn, and we will be.