Earl Barban has uttered his familiar, "new leader, 48," innumerable times the past decade at Charlotte Motor Speedway as spotter for Jimmie Johnson, who has six points-race wins at the 1.5-mile track nestled in NASCAR's core.
Moonlighting as Danica Patrick's spotter there Friday night in the Nationwide Series, Barban never had the chance to announce the No. 7 Chevrolet's ascension to the top of the scoring tower. And one of his last messages of the 200-lap race was extremely disheartening to his driver.
The leader, he said -- in this case, Joey Logano -- was coming fast.
Logano, with frequent Patrick spotter Tab Boyd watching from above, passed Patrick in the final few hundred feet of the tri-oval, dropping her a lap down for the first time in the race. That dampened what had been an otherwise functional 11th-place finish, her best since a ninth-place result at Bristol seven races ago.
"I really didn't want to get lapped," groaned Patrick, who has finished on the lead lap three times since Bristol.
Still, the finish was Patrick's best at Charlotte. She was 13th there this spring and 21st in her first start there in 2010. The finish also allowed Patrick to pass Joe Nemechek for 10th in series points. She now is 32 points out of ninth place and 388 behind leader Elliott Sadler.
Patrick, ninth-fastest in the final practice and 11th in qualifying, was 10th when Mike Bliss slid off the track and into a retaining wall on Lap 83, eliciting a caution that helped keep her with the lead-lap cars. Then-leader Sadler was just three seconds behind and had been quickly reducing the population of the lead lap before the yellow flag waved.
Patrick restarted ninth and ran from 10th to 12th for most of the middle sections of the race. She struggled at some points with the nimbleness of the car and lost more track position in a protracted tussle for position with frequent adversary Brad Sweet.
She restarted 10th after a four-tire stop with 68 laps left but settled into 12th position again. She held that through a final series of pit stops, including a late fuel grab with the rest of the field. She slipped as low as 13th with nine laps remaining after pitting but was able to nab Reed Sorenson and JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt in the final laps.
In her customary cool-down lap debrief, Patrick radioed to crew chief Ryan Pemberton, "We gotta work on getting the overall package ... making it a little faster," while assessing their setup choices for their third race together since the departure of Tony Eury Jr.
Patrick will contest both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races next weekend at Kansas Speedway. The Cup race will be her eighth of a scheduled 10. Four races remain in the Nationwide season.