For the fifth time this season, Danica Patrick finished better than her fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year competitor, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. As the Sprint Cup Series moved from its biggest track at Talladega to its smallest at Martinsville, many wondered if Patrick could repeat her impressive 12th place finish at “The Paperclip.” When the cars hit the track for the first time on Friday, early troubles left the GoDaddy team scrambling to prepare a backup car after a spin and crushed left rear quarter panel.
Stenhouse also had issues on track that led to extensive repairs. He wheel-hopped coming out of Turn 2 and slapped the wall with his right rear quarter panel. The No. 17 team spent the rest of the morning repairing the damaged rear end.
After qualifying 41st, Patrick had to fight her way to the front of the pack. She went a lap down quickly in the race but thanks to a handful of quick cautions, worked her way into the Lucky Dog position and back on to the lead lap. Running as high as tenth, Patrick out-drove some of Martinsville’s best drivers. A long green flag run at the end of the race put her a lap down just as the checkered flag flew.
“I’m really proud of what our GoDaddy team accomplished today,” said Patrick. “For pulling out the backup car on Friday and having to start so far back in the field, it was a really good run. We started in the back and made our way through, and we didn’t have quite the car that we had here in the spring, but we got a similar result and that’s something I’m proud of.”
Although she didn’t improve on her 12th place finish from the spring, Patrick’s 17th place finish was just her eighth top-20 of the season. Martinsville also joins Daytona as the only tracks where she grabbed a top-20 finish in both races.
Patrick’s top competitor in the series had one of his worst races of the season. Coming off a third place finish at Talladega, Stenhouse qualified 20th but finished 31st after multiple on-track incidents left him with a car that was covered in barabond strips.
His on-track woes started when the No. 38 of David Gilliland shoved Stenhouse into the back of Kasey Kahne mangling the nose of the pink ‘Driven for a Cause’ Ford. The No. 17 hit pit road multiple times for repairs but the damage was already done.
“Today was long and tough,” Stenhouse said. “After testing here a couple of weeks ago, we had high expectations going in to today’s race. I felt like it was déjà vu of the spring race because we got caught up in an accident early on and never could bounce back. Needless to say, I am looking forward to getting to Texas.”
There are only three races left in the season and the Rookie of the Year battle is quickly coming to a close. In one of the most publicized rookie battles in NASCAR history, one thing is for certain – no matter who wins, we will get to see both of them at the end-of-season banquet in Las Vegas.
As the end of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season draws near, it all comes down to two drivers – Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. With three races left and only eight points separating the two, it’s still anybody’s guess as to who will be the champion in Homestead-Miami. With one championship under his belt in the Camping World Truck Series, Austin Dillon is sitting comfortable at the top of the standings. He has been racing stock cars his entire life and holding that Nationwide Series trophy in his hands would be the perfect end before moving up to Sprint Cup Series.
Coming from a family of racers, Dillon has some of the best equipment out on the track but his talent speaks for itself. Although winless this season, he has consistently run up front. Eleven top-5 finishes and seven pole wins, including four in a row, has left Dillon with an average finish of ninth this season.
Sam Hornish Jr. finished fourth in the standings last season, 81 points behind Austin Dillon in third. With a win this season at Las Vegas, he has shown improvement and consistency this season. Hornish has one win at Phoenix back in 2011, but seems to run mid-pack at Texas and Homestead. He will have to fight hard to regain the point lead from Dillon.
As a three-time IndyCar Series champion, Hornish is currently unsure of his plans for 2014. His average finish this season is 9.4, up slightly from last season, and he has been the series point leader for most of the 2013 season. His best chance of getting back to the top is going to be consistency, which is something he has shown this season.
Can Hornish make it back to the top? Will Dillon add another championship title to his name before moving up to the Sprint Cup Series?
The Nationwide Series championship battle will no doubt be decided in the closing laps at Homestead-Miami. With two very talented and competitive drivers battling it out for the trophy, the next three races will be ones you won’t want to miss.
Two of NASCAR’s rising stars are making their Sprint Cup Series debut this weekend in front of their home crowd at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Part of the Drive for Diversity program, Kyle Larson is in his Rookie year in the Nationwide Series. With eight top-5 finishes already this season, he has been competitive and has impressed fellow drivers and fans alike. Just a few weeks ago, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing announced that Larson would be replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in the No.42 Target Chevrolet.
Moving up to the Sprint Cup Series after just one season in the Nationwide Series could be a challenge for the 21-year old driver. Larson, in a partnership with Phoenix Racing, will pilot the No.51 Chevrolet for the Bank of America 500.
After four full seasons in the Nationwide Series, 25-year old Brian Scott will finally get his chance to race in NASCAR’s top series. Currently driving the No.2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, Scott has one pole award and two runner-ups finishes this season.
This weekend, Scott will debut in the No.33 Little Joe’s Racing Chevrolet in a partnership with Richard Childress Racing. Making major strides in his career, Scott has led 253 laps this season, up from just 11 laps in 2012. His most memorable performance came just a few weeks ago at Richmond; Scott started on the pole and led 239 of 250 laps before being passed by Brad Keselowski and finishing second.
Both of these talented drivers have worked their way to the top and getting a chance to prove their skills in the Sprint Cup Series will be important in making that final step up to the highest level. Making the first start into the Cup Series can be daunting but with the talent that these two possess, it won’t be long before they make it to the top.