Danica Patrick held her own at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday.
Patrick qualified the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet 11th and finished in the same spot. She fell off the lead lap on the final circuit, when she was passed just short of the finish line by race winner Joey Logano, who continued his dominant run in the Nationwide Series with his eighth win of the season.
Patrick had Jimmie Johnson’s veteran spotter Earl Barban guiding her from atop the track.
“You did a good job,” Patrick said to Barban following the race. “We just have to work on making the overall package faster when you have to hit it just perfect it makes for a tough night because it’s rarely perfect.”
Patrick remained in the top 12 for most of the evening. Her visibility was compromised in the early going of the race after the track’s first turn was with speedy dry after Angela Cope destroyed her radiator on the first lap.
“My windshield looks like it’s been sandblasted already,” Patrick said as she battled up to ninth.
When Patrick broke into the top 10, Barban said, “Damn right, you stay under that thing, looking good.”
Patrick attempted the high line around the track, but her car would tighten up in that lane. By Lap 34, Patrick compared her car to “driving a truck”. Five laps later, Patrick had dropped to 12th.
“I’m sure I hurt the front tires by being in traffic so much,” Patrick said.
“We’ll put on a couple of new ones and you’ll be good,” crew chief Ryan Pemberton replied.
The team offered Patrick the option to pit while running 11th on Lap 52. With sticker tires and no adjustments, she cycled out to 14th and returned to the lead lap eight circuits later. In 10 laps, Patrick gained four positions. She reported “a little bit of a push” and the team offered a trackbar adjustment for the next pit stop.
By Lap 79, the leader Brad Keselowski had closed within three seconds of Patrick. Mike Bliss’ spinout four laps later created an opportune caution, which enabled her to remain on the lead lap.
“I’m not sure I’d do a track bar adjustment,” Patrick said. “The track is coming to me again … I’m just a tiny bit loose.”
Patrick pitted during the third caution period – the 10th and final car on the lead lap. The team put on sticker tires, and Patrick restarted seventh on Lap 87. She lost one spot on the restart and another before the pace was slowed again after Brad Sweet spun on Lap 91.
As Barban called the caution behind her, Patrick replied, “That’s funny, I looked in my mirror and saw it.”
Pemberton told Patrick to save fuel. He wasn’t willing to sacrifice track position to stop for fuel, and Patrick restarted 10th on Lap 95. Over the next 15 laps, Patrick’s car tightened and Pemberton promised a trackbar adjustment on the next stop.
Patrick was running 10th when NASCAR called a debris caution on Lap 131. The team refueled, changed four tires and put in one turn of the track bar. With 65 laps remaining in the race, Patrick was told to save fuel – although it was clear she would have to pit again before the checkered flag.
As the No. 7 car dropped to 12th on Lap 162, the team suggested Patrick arc the car in more through the turns. Patrick replied, “I’d be (expletive) plowing if I go high in (turns) three and four.”
With 30 laps remaining, Patrick asked, “What’s the plan here for the end?”
“We’re going to have to pit with 10 to go,” Pemberton replied. “That’s 20 more laps…a splash and right-side tires.”
Patrick’s car was starting to loosen up despite the track cooling down. She climbed up to eighth as cars stopped for a gas-and-go in the closing laps. Patrick was seventh when she entered pit road on Lap 189. The team opted for fuel and a slight trackbar change before she battled through the final 10 circuits.
Patrick cycled out 13th, on Lap 190 but dropped off the lead lap. She joined the leaders two laps later and moved to 12th on Lap 194. Although she gained one more position, she fell off the lead lap three car lengths from the finish.
Still, with Patrick’s 11th-place finish eclipsed her career-high finish of13th at CMS and was able to move her up to 10th in the point standings. Patrick trails point leader Elliott Sadler by 388 markers with four races remaining in the season.