Patrick gaining experience at Charlotte

Danica Patrick delivered in qualifying on Saturday, but was hoping for better results in the Nationwide Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Patrick was third fastest in time trials but battled a tight race car throughout the 300-mile race and settled for a 13th-place finish. Her qualifying effort was second only to her pole at Daytona for this season and 15 positions better than her first trip to Charlotte in 2010.

But from Lap 5, when Travis Pastrana drew the first of his two cautions, Patrick warned the team she was “tight all the way around.” Although she remained fourth on the restart, by the time Patrick pitted on Lap 50 she had dropped to 16th. However, the caution came for oil on the track three laps later and Patrick dropped to 28th — the last car on the lead lap.

After hearing one of her teammates say on the radio, “That’s how bad he beat us by, that’s how bad we suck,” Patrick rallied the troops.

“We’ve had one stop in this whole thing, we’re just a small portion of the way there,” Patrick said with 143 laps remaining in the race. “Let’s not get all riled up. Let’s keep our heads down I’ll just drive like hell.”

Patrick didn’t hesitate. By the next caution on Lap 61, Patrick had gained five positions. She reported the “car was turning all right, better rotation through the center.” Since Patrick was at the back of the pack, the crew called for her to pit for tires and fuel. She restarted 22nd on Lap 66 after Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was the points leader entering the event, broke a driveshaft and retired to the garage for repairs. By Lap 70, Patrick had advanced to 14th.

As she fluctuated between positions, spotter T.J. Majors told her “keep disciplining yourself and back your corner up.” But Patrick kept losing lap time and told the crew she was “going to try something different.”

“Every time I go high in (Turns) 3 and 4, I feel like I push up,” Patrick radioed.

Crew chief Tony Eury Jr., replied, “Yeah, entry (into the corner) is everything there.”

At the halfway point, Patrick was 15th and asked the crew to free up the car a little more on the next pit stop. On Lap 112, Patrick remained 15th when the crew pitted and returned to that position after the cars cycled out during green-flag pit stops.

By the fifth caution on Lap 126, Patrick was still 15th but reported she was “rotating on throttle real nice, just a little free getting into (turn) 3." Eury responded by pulling out a rubber in the left rear and let the track bar down one round but Danny Efland blocked the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Still, seven laps after the restart, the sixth caution came on Lap 138. Patrick had gained two positions but reported the car was “a little free one and two, tight in three and four.” She also acknowledged that the previous changes provided “a slightly harder setup to drive than the last one”.

The team opted for a gas-and-go stop and the driver offered a little comic relief:

“Let me know when I can accelerate this time,” Patrick said.

“I know I missed it last time,” Eury replied.

“I’m so bright and pretty, how could you miss me,” Patrick asked.

“I had my mind on some other things in here,” Eury said.

Patrick pitted on Lap 142 and restarted 12th, with the request from Eury to save fuel for the finish over the next 54 laps. When her teammate Cole Whitt wrecked two laps later along with Brian Scott, she moved carefully to avoid Austin Dillon, but the subsequent caution simplified her fuel conservation task.

Patrick was ninth for the final restart on Lap 155, but her car tightened up over the 45 closing laps.

“Thanks for your hard work guys, sorry I couldn’t get us a better spot,” Patrick radioed the crew. “I just can’t carry any speed into the corners. So, I have to go in so slow before it gets to the bottom on those last several spots — it was just the transition from cold tires to hot tires. I couldn’t carry it in with them. I couldn’t carry the speed they were carrying.”

Still, Patrick improved on her last finish at Charlotte — which was 21st.

“We weren’t strong on the long runs,” Patrick told the Performance Racing Network. “We qualfied third, that was pretty darn good. We moved around the pack all day but unfortunately we just couldn’t maintain our run at the end there — we just got tight.

“I tried to be very disciplined and make the most of it.”

Patrick’s next challenge will be Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 in the Sprint Cup Series.

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