Danica Patrick hoped to “coast” to a better finish on Saturday, but settled for 10th instead.
When a late-race caution extended the event by six laps, the game plan changed. No longer would her team’s initial fuel-mileage strategy play out after Scott Lagasse Jr. and Hal Martin made contact in Turn 2 with two laps remaining in the advertised distance of the Kansas Lottery 300.
Crew chief Ryan Pemberton elected to top off the No. 7 Go Daddy Chevrolet for fuel — along with Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler — expecting the other 14 drivers on the lead lap could not go the distance. However, Patrick was snookered on the final restart.
She rolled off 15th behind Dillon and Sadler with two laps to decide the Kansas Lottery 300 when the race went green on Lap 205. Yet through the confusion of cars running out of fuel, drivers ducking onto pit road for gas and others just dashing for the finish, Patrick held on for her third top-10 finish of the season.
“We had a really good day,” Patrick said. “We ran in the top seven most of the race till we had to pit under green and got two laps down. We got those back, got back up into the top seven and got to third or fourth at one point.
“I think we had a really good day. It was just the last long run there I was really tight and it was killing me. When we came in for that splash there at the end, that was the right move because, obviously, a lot of people were running out of gas. So, what we’re all wondering is why they get to be right behind me when they pit as they’re running out after everybody else.
“I don’t know what the rule is there, but definitely it’s a little bit frustrating when you do the right thing and pit at the right time and you’re just waiting for everything. But they had enough time to get around. I don’t know if they laid back or what. I’ll have to figure out what that rule is.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the defending Nationwide Series champion, lucked into his sixth win of the season when leader Kyle Busch ran out gas heading into the final turn.
Patrick started 13th. While her car was well-balanced at the start after Brian Scott spun on Lap 14, the grass kicked up into Patrick’s grille and elevated her car’s water temperature.
“A little bit loose in, a little bit tight off, lots of grass,” Patrick reported while running 13th. “Three (on a 1-10 scale) loose getting in and a two tight getting off. I’d rather manage the loose in.”
Patrick stopped for tires and fuel. The team cleaned the grille and eventually the car’s temperature dropped.
“We would have been in trouble if we didn’t pit, the grille was packed,” Pemberton said.
Patrick restarted 15th on Lap 20 and gained three positions before the next caution 12 laps later. The crew added fuel and made a wedge adjustment.
“Sorry I got too far into the box,” Patrick said. “I locked up the brakes.”
Patrick restarted fifth, but had difficulty hearing Pemberton on the radio. By the third caution on Lap 39, Patrick was seventh. She tried working the high line, but it didn’t work for her. When Scott wrecked for a third time, Patrick remained seventh. The team stayed on the track and gained three positions as others pitted, but fell to fifth on the restart.
“(Expletive) idiot just about took me out in one and two,” Patrick, who was seventh, said as Logano passed her shortly before the sixth caution triggered by Nur Ali.
“Oh, geez, the 41,” Patrick said as Ali returned to the track. Spotter Tab Boyd warned the driver to “be ready for him.”
Patrick restarted seventh but radioed, “All these yellows, I don’t understand.” Little did she know, the cautions were only reaching the halfway point of the race.
By Lap 73, Patrick was running in the top five again. But her car tightened in traffic.
Patrick was running sixth when Pemberton called her to the pits for fuel, tires and a track-bar adjustment on Lap 94. Boyd suggested that Patrick “take advantage of these fresh tires,” but after dropping to 22nd, Patrick warned that “traffic is going to kill the front.”
When Johanna Long’s tire blew out on Lap 111, Patrick was 19th, two laps down following the pit stop. The team opted for a wave around on Lap 116, gained one lap and two spots on the track. By Lap 122, Patrick was 15th and battling for the beneficiary.
On Lap 130, the eighth caution, Patrick let the team know “balance is pretty good here, it didn’t change much.”
She pitted for right-side tires and fuel and restarted 15th. Eight laps later, Patrick received the lucky dog during the ninth caution and returned to the lead lap.
“Let me know when to pit,” Patrick said. “I’m always confused when to pit when I’m the lucky dog.”
The team opted for four tires and fuel. Patrick asked if the team had a fuel strategy.
“We need to implement it pretty quickly I would think,” Patrick said on lap 141. “I know how to save fuel.”
Although Patrick restarted 15th, she picked off seven cars in eight laps.
“I’m kind of impressing myself too, to be honest,” Patrick replied.
After Patrick reached the seventh position, she asked on Lap 159, “Fuel is more important than this position, right?”
“Yes, let’s save,” Pemberton said. “Draft off of him a little bit.”
When the 10th caution was called for debris on Lap 161, Patrick was seventh and still running in fuel conservation mode.
“Just coast,” Pemberton said. “These caution laps will help us out.”
“Been able to shut it off for most of this lap,” Patrick replied.
“Keep saving, it looks like we’ll be OK,” Pemberton said. “Our numbers say we can make it, hit ’em hard here.”
But the race ran green for just six laps. Patrick was told to “shut it off and coast.” She quickly realized with everyone coasting “we’re all the same speed.”
Patrick restarted fourth, but developed a tight condition and was passed by five cars before the 12th and final caution on Lap 198.
“I’m tragically tight,” Patrick said while running ninth. When the team commanded her to pit for fuel, she replied, “How about tires, a track bar, or something?”
Inevitably, the team topped off, put on right side tires and raised the track bar. Just before the restart, Pemberton said, “Good luck to you.”
Patrick restarted 15th but was confused when other cars passed her on the restart and she ended up 10th. She wondered whether the team would protest the finish and Pemberton answered “no.”
“I felt like my car was really strong on restarts,” Patrick said. “It was good around (turns) one and two and was able to carry a lot of momentum down there. If I could hang on in three and four I could usually — if I could stay with them down the front straight, I could get by them in one and two.
“It shows the car was good, it was reliable. I think there were some cars that were a little faster, but when we needed it, it was there. It was just a bummer we didn’t get what I thought we should get at the end. … I think that was one of the funnest races I ever had.”