Danica Patrick said the secret to dealing with lackluster days in the slog that is a lengthy NASCAR Nationwide series is "faking it until you believe it." Saturday at Dover International Speedway seemingly would have been a wonderful time to pretend.
Patrick's race car wasn't abysmal, but it wasn't good enough to race inside the top 10. Her efforts were not deficient, but she was unable to wrangle the ill-handling No. 7 Chevrolet to any better than a 16th-place finish in 200 laps around the concrete oval.
Patrick complimented her crew over team radio about its work in the pits but seemed frustrated with her car's speed and again when crew chief Ryan Pemberton dissected the final 20 laps, explaining how teammate Cole Whitt had avoided a snaggle on a final restart to finish sixth.
"I really don't care where Cole ended up," Patrick replied to Pemberton, in his second race as interim crew chief following the departure of Tony Eury Jr. "I care where I ended up."
Patrick, who started 25th, advanced to 15th on a Lap 51 restart after a caution but was unable to advance any further despite improvements made to the handling of the race car. She held the same position on a restart with 64 laps remaining and was instructed by Pemberton to attempt to save fuel.
Patrick immediately slipped to 17th, however, subsequently apologizing over team radio with, "you guys do a good job in the pits, and I can't hang on."
Patrick returned to 16th in the running order with 30 laps left, but after a final four-tire stop under caution, complained that the handling of the car was as bad as it had been all race. The problem was worsened by a poor restart when several cars in front of her failed to reach race speed expeditiously after a Kasey Kahne bobble.
Patrick remained 11th in Nationwide driver points, three behind 10th-place Joe Nemechek and 379 behind leader Elliott Sadler. She has five races remaining this season in her first full-time Nationwide campaign.
As nondescript as the result was, it represented Patrick's best finish at Dover in three attempts. She started 42nd and finished 35th in 2010 and crashed late and finished 30th this spring, both in the Nationwide Series.
Patrick will start 38th in the Sprint Cup race at Dover on Sunday, which might require a whole lot more faking in a slog of a race made even tougher as the third in the Chase for the Championship.
"It's easy to get down,'' she said Friday in reference to her mental approach at Dover. "It's easy to not be happy or excited in the monotony of the same thing every weekend, and if things don't go well, being upset and letting that get to you.
"We just came up with that idea of fake it until you believe it. I encourage everyone to try it. If you just smile and are happy and joke, even if you are out of control and not even being honest about how excited you are about something, eventually at some point that day you will be happy.
"Then you are just having a good weekend, and you don't have to fake it anymore. It's common sense that if you say you don't like something, it's not going to go as well. I'm just trying to apply that every weekend. I can't say I'm completely successful."