Danica Patrick has had better luck in Las Vegas than a lot of people who visit Sin City.
And, frankly, she’s ready for some good luck this weekend. Really, really ready.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, finished fourth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011, her best career finish and only top-five run in a combined 109 NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series starts.
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This weekend at LVMS, Patrick will be racing only in the Sprint Cup Series, and she’ll be sporting a new look with sponsorship from Aspen Dental instead of her traditional GoDaddy.com colors.
Make no mistake about it, though: Patrick is in serious need of a good finish this weekend. In her first two races of the season, Patrick was caught up in crashes, finishing 40th at Daytona and 36th at Phoenix. And while she wasn’t at fault in starting either crash, qualifying 27th at Daytona and 33rd at Phoenix left her back where trouble tends to happen.
"The car was really good at the start of the race," Tony Gibson, Patrick’s crew chief, said after Phoenix. "We moved up to 23rd by the first caution. Things were going well, the car was handling well and Danica was doing a phenomenal job."
And then, suddenly, a good day went bad.
"It’s one of those deals where, on the restarts, if you’re further back than 10th, you’re probably in jeopardy," said Gibson. "And we got hooked up with the wrong guys back there and got knocked around and knocked the fenders in against the tires. We got it beat back out and didn’t lose a lap, so we were still looking pretty good. And then, on low air pressure, we had a fender brace get against the tire and cut it, so that’s when we spun and lost a few laps trying to get that fixed."
Which is all it took for Patrick to finish 33rd at Phoenix instead of in the top 15. Still, Gibson saw reason for optimism.
"We had a fast car — probably the fastest car we’ve had in a long time," said Gibson. "We were fast in happy hour. All of our Stewart-Haas cars were fast and Danica was really pumped coming into the race. We started the race passing cars and going forward, but it just wasn’t meant to be. We’ll keep our head down and keep digging."
For her part, Patrick is looking for better results on Sunday in Las Vegas.
"Hopefully our luck turns around after Daytona and Phoenix," said Patrick, who is 39th in the Sprint Cup points standings. "We just seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s disappointing because the crew has given me two great cars and we have nothing to show for it. We had a good run in the Nationwide Series race at Vegas a few years ago, and we’d love to have another one."
And last weekend’s dominating victory at Phoenix by SHR teammate Kevin Harvick is cause for optimism within the organization.
"It seems like SHR is really headed in the right direction, especially with Kevin’s win last week." Patrick said. "Congrats to him and the team. I think our cars are really strong and the hard work of the entire team is starting to show."