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.