Danica earns best NASCAR finish

Danica Patrick enjoyed a career weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The JR Motorsports driver started from a career-best NASCAR Nationwide Series qualifying position of fourth, raced to the front of the pack to lead a lap and finished a career-best 14th on Saturday.

She was legitimately among the lead groups for most of the race and even worked with some drafting partners in the two-car tandems that Daytona requires these days.

In only her second year of part-time competition, and her 14th career NASCAR Nationwide start, Patrick enjoyed a stellar outing.

After the race, the 28-year-old, who is also running full time in the IZOD IndyCar Series once more this season, was pleased with her run.

She said that she achieved her goal of learning a lot — and was pleased to have had the opportunity to work with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veteran Clint Bowyer in the race.

“I pushed a little bit at the end, a little too late, but it was really cool when Clint was pushing me and they told me that I did lead a lap, at least, so that was really cool,” she said.

She said that her JR Motorsports car was fast, which is something that will pay off now that the series turns to its more standard run of races on short and intermediate tracks.

Daytona is a different animal in terms of how drivers race anyway, especially this season after the track has been repaved and the cars have undergone a series of rule changes. The Nationwide teams started the week with a larger tapered spacer, saw that shrunk then saw a restrictor plate added as well.

Still, Patrick said that she felt calm in the car and that she was pleased with the outing.

She added that she would have liked to have worked with Bowyer a little more, but she wasn’t sure how to make pushing others work all that well yet. Yet, the day certainly felt like more of a success and fell within her goal of finishing in the top 15.

“It was fun,” she said. “I felt like I really ran up front most of the day … Gosh, it is frustrating in a long train because you’re lifting so much of the lap and you think, ‘I can go faster.’ It’s the next best option to pushing. I’m probably not to the point where if I pull out, people are going to go, ‘All right, she’s going, I’m going,’ so that takes awhile to earn the trust and respect from all the other drivers.

“I’m not mad at that, that’s just going to take time and it’ll only get better from here on out, hopefully, with that stuff.”

In fact, the race could have been both a step in gaining that trust and respect — and in building her confidence in racing stock cars.

“It was a good experience, there was a lot to learn and I did learn a lot,” she said. “It was cool to finish all the laps. There were definitely some accidents that … I was more in the top 12 or so at that point, if I was where I was last year I’d have been collected. So I’m further up and I’m missing the accidents and that’s what you want.”

While there’s not much that can transfer from this race into her next segment of them, Patrick says that Saturday’s performance could still pay dividends at upcoming tracks. And that could help her continue to compete at this level.

“All you can do at a race like this going into … anywhere else after this, is make some friends and try to get people to believe in you and trust in you and see that you’re a fast car because people want to follow fast cars,” she said.