Danica Patrick celebrated a top-10 finish at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night.
While Joey Logano earned his 15th career victory in the Nationwide Series, Patrick was thrilled to survive her third start at Bristol with a ninth-place finish.
For the driver of the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, it was just her second top-10 of the year, but a career-high showing at the half-mile track known as Thunder Valley.
“If you drive like that tomorrow night, you’ll have a good night,” said crew chief Tony Eury Jr., referring to Patrick’s Cup Series debut at Bristol on Saturday.
“Copy that,” said Patrick, who started 34 and overcame a speeding penalty and three near-misses on the track before soldiering back to her first top 10 in 16 races.
Patrick quickly moved into the top 30, but fought traffic in the opening laps. On Lap 19, she avoided disaster as David Starr slowed to a crawl before parking his car. A rash of cautions enabled Patrick to climb to 25th by the time action restarted on Lap 40.
Six laps later, Eury elected to take two tires and made an air-pressure adjustment with the right rear tire on the pit stop. Patrick exited 11th and restarted 15th behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Logano and Rick Crawford, who remained on the track.
Patrick’s second near-miss came on Lap 62, when she barely escaped colliding with Brian Scott on the backstretch going into Turn 3.
“Oh, s***, does that mean I actually caught a break?” Patrick asked spotter Tab Boyd. “I was hard on the brakes and I was like, ‘Oh, s****, there’s no place to go.”
Over the next 25 laps, Patrick battled Michael Annett, prompting veteran crew chief Tony Eury Sr. to come over the radio and insist the driver not “take any s**** from the 43” car.
Patrick was running 16th when Fain Skinner spun in Turn 2. Once she was able to slow down, Patrick asked who gave her the advice on the No. 43.
“That was Pops,” Eury Jr. said.
“I knew it wasn’t someone that was usually on the radio,” Patrick replied.
Patrick was up to 13th when Boyd suggested, “Keep doing what you’ve been doing all night.”
However, the driver started out a tad bit aggressive while racing Ryan Blaney. Boyd warned her on Lap 129, “Be careful with the right front. There’s a lot more racing to go.”
Patrick’s closest call came on Lap 172, as she barely missed Benny Gordon exiting Turn 4 while running 13th.
“Good job, whew,” Boyd said.
“Good job to get me where I was on that,” Patrick said in relief — until she discovered that Annett gained a position on her during the accident.
If Patrick was feeling the sting before she pitted on Lap 174, NASCAR turned up the heat by busting her with a speeding penalty exiting the pits. Patrick apologized after the team told her she would have to start from the end of the longest line for the Lap 181 restart.
“I’m really sorry. … It’s time to bring the f****** ‘A’ game, then,” Patrick promised as she took off 16th.
“Run your bottom and they’ll mess up,” Boyd told Patrick, who sliced through traffic. “You’re an animal, keep digging.”
As the battle heated up at the front of the pack between Logano and Kevin Harvick, Patrick managed to move to 14th by Lap 212. Eleven circuits later, she carefully maneuvered around Jon Wes Townley for 13th.
Eury told her, “Next three cars to a top 10 with 29 to go.”
Patrick was running 11th when the final caution fell on Lap 244.
“You’re on the offense, go get ’em,” Boyd directed.
And after the dust cleared, Patrick attempted to take Annett for eighth but settled for ninth.
“We definitely started from the back and Tony Jr. made a good call — that got us track position,” Patrick said. “We tried to beat the 12 (Sam Hornish Jr.) out of the pits there when we stopped at the end and I blew the speed limit. That was a bummer. But it was fun to pass all those cars and come back.
“I really felt like the car was really good comeback for us. Everybody on the team should be really proud that we all kept our heads down and the guys did a great job in the pits and Tony made good calls and we got a top 10.”
Patrick moved back into the top 10 in the point standings with her ninth-place finish. She trails points leader Elliott Sadler by 325 points.