Entering Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Danica Patrick had every reason to be upbeat about her prospects of a strong performance.
She qualified a season-best 10th.
And Martinsville, a .526-mile oval that many drivers find particularly challenging, was surprisingly one of Patrick’s best tracks last season as a Sprint Cup Series rookie.
Unfortunately for Patrick, this Martinsville race didn’t pan out as she or her No. 10 team had planned.
On a day when Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch collected his first win in six outings as a SHR driver, Patrick struggled from start to finish with an ill-handling GoDaddy Chevrolet.
In the end, Patrick limped home six laps down in 32nd — by far her worst finish in four races. The outcome also sent Patrick sliding two positions in the points standings, from 27th to 29th.
"It was a disappointing day," Patrick said. "We ran so well at Martinsville last year, but we struggled all race long today. It’s disappointing for everyone on the GoDaddy team. We had high hopes coming into this race based off what we accomplished last year, but we missed the setup.
"Tony (Gibson, crew chief) made changes every time we came to pit road and really hit on something around halfway. But by that point, we were already a couple of laps down."
The team gambled by staying out during two late-race cautions — on Lap 341 and Lap 412 — in hopes of regaining laps, but the strategy backfired. Patrick had to pit under green late in the race, costing her additional laps.
"We tried staying out on a couple of the cautions to take the wave-around and get a couple of laps back," Patrick said. "It wound up biting us toward the end when we had to make a green-flag pit stop, because the tires were killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t the finish we were looking for."