After her first trip to Michigan resulted in an impressive 13th place finish for Danica Patrick, her return to the two-mile track was hoping to garnish similar results. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
Patrick finished 23rd in her 33rd career Sprint Cup Series start last Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400. She went down a lap early in the race as she battled with an ill-handling car but after a long series of changes to the car, she was able to get her lap back and stay on the lead lap the remainder of the race.
This weekend, Patrick and the rest of the Sprint Cup Series crews head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Irwin Tools 500 under the Tennessee lights. The Bristol Night Race is one of the few races on the schedule that drivers and teams look forward to all season long and for Patrick, she too, feels the same.
“I’ve liked Bristol since I went there the first time,” she said in a press release on her website. “I remember when I set foot onto that track, it was the day before, it was load-in day and I looked out there and you’re standing on the straightaway, but it sure seems like a corner.”
Patrick’s first start in the No.10 at Bristol came in 2012 when owner and teammate Tony Stewart scheduled what is known as the Bristol Night Race as one of Patrick’s 10 Cup Series starts. During the race, Patrick battled her way into the top-20 only to be taken out by a fellow driver with 66-laps remaining. She went on to finish 29th. This year, she hopes for a different story.
There has been one main man missing from the Stewart-Haas Racing organization these last two weeks as Stewart as been at home recovering from a severely broken leg. Two weeks ago, Max Papis drove the No.14 through the winding roads at Watkins Glen and last weekend, Nationwide Series Driver Austin Dillon drove the No.14 to a 14th place finish at Michigan. This weekend, and for the remainder of the season, veteran driver Mark Martin will be behind the wheel of Stewart’s ride with Dillon filling in once more at Talladega.
Patrick and Martin have a good relationship and she spoke highly of him earlier this week.
“I think he’s a great choice as a replacement for Tony,” she said. “His knowledge and experience is probably second to none in the garage. It gives the team some stability throughout the final few months knowing Mark’s in the car for all the races, except for Talladega. And obviously we’ve got Austin (Dillon) in there for that race. I think it just allows us to get back to a little sense of normalcy and, hopefully, get into a routine as an organization. It’s still tough not to see Tony at the racetrack, but we know we’ve got a good plan for the rest of the year. Selfishly, it will be a huge benefit to work with Mark and learn from him. He’s so respected in the garage. I’m excited to get the chance to work with him.”
So as Patrick, Newman and Martin all prepare for Bristol, thoughts always bounce back to their missing teammate. All focus will be on the task at hand as soon as the tires hit the track and for Patrick, she hopes her strong Nationwide Series run (9th in 2012) plus her experience from last season will transition into a good finish for the GoDaddy.com team.