Danica Patrick learned about life in the spin cycle on Saturday.
While Joey Logano won his fifth Nationwide Series race in 11 starts, Patrick spun three times in the Alliance Truck Parts 250 at Michigan International Speedway before finishing 18th. The first incident occurred before Patrick completed the first lap.
Patrick was running fifth when she spun in Turn 4. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. called Patrick to the pits for tires, and she restarted 40th but climbed to 30th after cars cycled out. In 10 laps, Patrick performed yeoman’s work carving through traffic and raced up to 22nd.
On Lap 19, Patrick was running 17th and Eury suggested she remain behind Erik Darnell over the next five laps to conserve fuel, with a competition caution scheduled for Lap 25.
“I think the balance is OK, because I don’t have to drive it hard,” Patrick said. “The tires aren’t sliding much, it’s turning, but I can manage.”
But the day was still young.
Eury elected to take fuel only on the pit stop during the caution, but Patrick was blocked coming to the pits. Still, she jumped to eighth place for the restart on Lap 30. In five laps, Patrick developed a loose condition and dropped to 13th.
“I feel a little loose right now,” Patrick said. “I can’t be aggressive.”
“Get back to hitting your lines,” Eury said. “You just lost three-tenths when you got close to those guys.”
By Lap 43, Patrick had moved back up to 11th. On the third caution, five laps later, Patrick reported: “Loose in (the corner), a tiny bit tight in the center (of the corner), OK off, I’m really afraid to go flat in in case it snaps.”
Patrick had issues getting into her pits; Eury said she needed to get 2 feet closer to the pit wall. Six laps after the restart, Patrick moved into ninth.
“Go get the next one,“ Eury told his driver on Lap 63. “You’re doing good . . . fast as the leaders.”
But Patrick’s car was still loose and she felt a vibration from the new set of tires. As cars began taking green-flag pit stops, Patrick moved through the pack and led Lap 90, then pitted on the next circuit. The team opted for two tires and Patrick restarted 11th.
She was running eighth when Austin Dillon took the air off the back of her car on Lap 103 in Turn 2 and sent her spinning once again. “At least I’m doing better, I’m not hitting (stuff) when I spin,” Patrick said after bringing out the fifth caution.
But that was wishful thinking. Patrick restarted 15th on Lap 108, and Eury told his driver to remember the move Dillon placed on her “so it won’t happen again.”
She gained one spot before contact with Brad Sweet six laps later on the outside wall in Turn 2 to bring out the sixth caution of the day.
“Damn it, I’m smoking like a (expletive) rookie today. I’ve got to pit,” Patrick said. “I probably jinxed myself like a freaking idiot when I said I wasn’t hitting stuff when I spun.”
Eury’s game plan changed at that point: The goal now was to finish on the lead lap. In the pits, the team made certain there was no contact between the tires and the car’s sheet metal so Patrick could finish the final seven laps.
Patrick restarted 17th, the last car on the lead lap. She asked Eury if he could tighten the car up, but he replied, “All you’re going to do is run half-throttle. Just trying to stay on the lead lap. Survival. Try to make sure that those tires don’t blow. Your race day is done pretty much other than just riding.”
“Sorry, I’m really sorry,” Patrick said. “I was trying as hard as I could. I was trying to be smart. I could give up the position and not crash or I could try and race them. It was tough to drive. It wasn’t a slow car, it was just tough to drive.”
Patrick remained on the lead lap but finished 18th. She remains 11th in the points standings.