Promising night turns sour for Danica Patrick
There was good news and bad for Danica Patrick in a frayed right front tire Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. By quickly and accurately assessing the situation with about 70 laps left, Patrick possibly kept her No. 7 Chevrolet from careening out of control and out of the third-to-last race of the Nationwide Series season.
But the green-flag pit stop required to replace the tire put Patrick off sequence in fuel strategy, helping ruin what had been one of her best runs of the season and relegating her to a 14th-place finish.
Patrick, who finished eighth in the spring on the 1.5-mile oval, raced as high as fourth and dabbled with the top 10 much of the night but was again left sorting through an unsatisfactory finish for bits of promise.
There was much to cull Saturday, but a disappointing final 50 laps underscored the wide ranges in performance her team has experienced this season. Though she was able to work her way back toward the top 10 with subsequent pit stops and cautions, she and crew chief Ryan Pemberton were unable to rediscover the balance that made the car so manageable and quick earlier.
Patrick qualified eighth and began advancing after a pit stop under caution on Lap 84. Exiting the stop in seventh position, she soon began logging some of the quickest laps of the race at the time, passing JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt for fifth on Lap 125, prompting spotter Tab Boyd to chime, "Adios, take off, you're good. Fresh air right there."
Earlier, Patrick had noted happily, "It feels really freakin' good to see the leaders," leading Boyd to respond, "Stay after 'em and they'll be seeing you."
But with about 70 laps remaining, after being passed for fifth by Sam Hornish Jr., Patrick chimed in over team radio that she thought she had a tire problem. She was able to quickly duck onto pit road for a stop.
Pemberton and Boyd quickly validated her assessment, describing the tire as "shredded." It was not immediately clear was caused the damage, but Ryan Newman apparently had suffered a similar problem.
Patrick rejoined the race 14th, about 10 laps short on fuel, according to Pemberton's calculations, but worked her way to fourth with 53 laps remaining as the rest of the field pitted, prompting Boyd to ponder, "This might work out for us."
It didn't, however, as Patrick experienced a drastic worsening in the handling of her car, dropping her steadily through the field and prompting her to comment in the final laps, "This sucks." She remained 10th in Nationwide driver points.
The finish likely was unfulfilling on multiple levels as another respectable run had been tempered with a marginal finish -- at a track where Patrick had her best finish of the season after crew chief Tony Eury Jr.'s tire strategy helped her gain five positions in the waning laps.
With just two races left in her first full Nationwide season, she seemed resigned to little victories and little lessons and moving on to her ninth of a scheduled 10 Sprint Cup races this season, Sunday at Texas.
"You guys did a good job," she said over team radio after the race. "There's nothing we can do about getting a flat tire."