Danica's Dozen: Bristol recap

Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

After coming off a history-make 4th-place finish at Las Vegas, Danica Patrick took on her biggest challenge yet in her foray into NASCAR: Bristol Motor Speedway. The high-banked, concrete short track was unlike anything the IndyCar star had raced on before. Patrick set her sights on Bristol with her expectations “reeled in,” as she made the most of nearly six hours of practice time. With a better-than-expected run in the top 20, Patrick’s promising Nationwide debut at Bristol ended in disappointment following an on-track incident with Ryan Truex. But the race will be better remembered for her display of frustration with Truex, lighting up the Internet with a variety of opinions as Patrick takes a three-month break from NASCAR to return to IndyCar.

Patrick started to get back into the IndyCar groove last week with testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Georgia before switching gears to Bristol. This was her first time at the Tennessee half-mile. Patrick converged on Bristol with a boost of confidence from her career-best effort as Las Vegas, but with her expectations in check. The driver of the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala for JR Motorsports had achieved a career-best finish of 4th at Las Vegas, the highest-finishing effort for a woman in NASCAR’s history. The momentum had carried over from her finishes of 14th at Daytona and 17th at Phoenix this season, her second in NASCAR. But Patrick had struggled on the short ovals she raced on last season in the Nationwide Series. During the off-week leading up to Bristol, Patrick said her goal was to finish the race, no more than 10 laps down.


Upon arriving at Bristol last Thursday, Patrick took the unusual step of visiting the track before running her first laps on it (she tweeted a photo of the visit on her Twitter account). In a press conference the next day, she said she wanted to “sleep on the visual.” She also became more familiar with the track by taking a pace car ride with last year’s Nationwide winner, Justin Allgaier.

Friday’s Nationwide practices allowed for about five hours and 40 minutes of practice time; the seat time could only benefit a rookie like Patrick. Across the four practices she ran a combined 230 laps, more than half of the laps she would run in Saturday’s Scotts EZ Seed 300.  

For the third race in a row she worked with mentor and driving coach Johnny Benson. Benson’s guidance had gone a long way in helping Patrick find the best lines to run at Phoenix and Las Vegas and tuning her in to the nuances of stockcars. It would be even more valuable at Bristol.

Patrick talked about her first impressions of running at Bristol on Friday afternoon. “If the car gets loose, you can find yourself from being comfortable to being on edge,” she said. “When the car is not perfect, it gets your attention because you don't have much time to relax.”

After running 20th fastest in the first practice and 19th in the second, Patrick was still searching for speed. “When it is something new and uncomfortable, it's hard to go fast.”

Patrick was 25th fastest in the third practice and 23rd in the final practice. Similar to Las Vegas, Patrick got into the corner too hard and spun during the last practice session. In a demonstration of her car control, she saved it and kept the car off the turn 4 wall. After taking the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevy to the garage, she took four tires and went back out onto the track for a mock qualifying run.

Race day

Patrick qualified 29th for Saturday’s Scotts EZ Seed 300. By lap 25, she was up to 25th by the time the competition caution NASCAR had mandated to check the new right-side tire came out. Patrick described the car to crew chief Tony Eury Jr. as “loose in the middle in one and 2. Good in 3 and 4."

Patrick had moved up to 15th by lap 34. She received a bump from Steven Wallace but while he got loose, she did not. On lap 69, Trevor Bayne was trying to pass Patrick when he ran into liquid on the track from the 23 car, bringing out a caution.

Patrick restarted 12th, her highest running position in the race, but she lost valuable spots on the restart. By lap 114 she was running in the 20th position, and just four laps later she was lapped by leader Kyle Busch. Eury Jr. radioed in on lap 133 that Patrick was running a “nice lap” of 16.33, which put her on par with the leaders.

When Patrick pitted on lap 187 or so, the crew worked on giving the No. 7 more forward drive by taking a half pound out of the tires. She was running in 18th, two laps down, when teammate Aric Almirola spun, not hitting anything. Patrick had a close call when the 05 got loose in front of her and she got into his back bumper. She pitted and the crew told her she had a ding in her front bumper, but it was just “a little character on the car.” Within 20 laps Eury reported she was running a 16.64 and advised her to run on the bottom to see if she could find more speed.

Patrick was running 17th, two laps down, by lap 238. She and Ryan Truex had been bumping and banging for position for some time, and Patrick had complained on the scanner about how long it took her to pass him earlier. On lap 248 Patrick’s top 20 run would come to an end. Truex got loose off the wall, went low and turned into Patrick’s path; Patrick drifted up into his rear quarter panel and wrecked, hitting the wall hard. Pieces of sheet metal flew off the car.

Known for her feisty nature, Patrick showed her displeasure with Truex and walked out the track with her arms outstretched as if to say, “What gives?” before an official pulled her away.

The No. 7 car was destroyed and Patrick’s day was done, relegating her to her first DNF of 2011. She was credited with a 33rd-place-finish, 55 laps down.


For a rookie at Bristol, Patrick had a respectable run. She overcame a mediocre qualifying effort and raced in the top 20 for most of the day, running as high as 12th, and likely would have finished there if not for the wreck. She dodged some close calls with Bayne and the 05 car.

Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona
in February. Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Her goal before the race was to not be more than 10 laps down; at the time of the crash she was running two laps down. This was better than her first time at the short, 1-mile ovals of Loudon (finished 30th, five laps down) and Phoenix (32nd, seven laps down) last season, as well as the concrete track of Dover, where she struggled after starting 42nd even before she got a flat, hitting the wall and spending most of the day in the garage.

Her better-than-expected performance at Bristol can be attributed to a number of things: more experience in a stockcar, confidence and momentum from the season’s good runs, Benson’s guidance and taking advantage of Friday’s practice sessions at Bristol to run as many laps as possible.

Patrick’s feedback about her car to Eury Jr. has improved and is very detailed. She and Eury Jr. communicate very well back and forth. She has become more comfortable describing what the car is doing and is more tuned in to its behavior. She also continues to run fast lap times, comparable to those of the leaders at times.

For as well as she did her first time out at Bristol, Patrick lost valuable ground on a restart early in the race and was never able to catch back up. She will need to be more aggressive on restarts her next time here and at other short tracks like Richmond.

Despite Bristol's reputation, Patrick did not encounter anywhere near as much beating and banging as she did at Phoenix last fall. This indicates she is receiving more respect from her fellow racers.

She and Truex were battling for quite a few laps. Their on-track incident was a racing deal, brought on by the tight quarters of Bristol. After the race Truex apologized, explaining he got loose off the corner and that like Patrick he was also a rookie at Bristol, learning as well his first time here. The replays and his apology verified Patrick’s claims that he did turn down into her path - “"It felt like I came out of the corner down the straight and he came off the wall. I don't know if he had a tank slap on the wall like he was pushing up” - though it was not intentional on his part.

Patrick’s display of frustration was similar to other outbursts she has had in IndyCar. While she may have been overreacting, Patrick is just one of many racers to get caught up in the heat of the moment and is not one to hide how she feels. I’ve heard many people, both fans and media, say the drivers need to show more emotion in NASCAR; whether you agree with her reaction or not, here’s one who’s not afraid to show that emotion.

Up next

Today, March 25, is Danica Patrick's birthday. The racer turns 29 today, but she will be spending it in St. Petersburg, Fla, and not Fontana, Calif. Patrick takes a break from NASCAR as she returns to IndyCar this weekend. The season opener is Sunday at St. Petersburg. Patrick is not scheduled to run another Nationwide race until June 4 at Chicagoland, the Illinois native’s home track. Then it’s once a month in the Nationwide Series until she returns for the last three races of the season in November.

Her remaining Nationwide schedule is as follows: Chicagoland, June 4; Daytona, July 1; Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Aug. 20; Richmond, Sept. 9; Kansas, Oct. 8; Texas, Nov. 5; Phoenix, Nov. 12; and Homestead-Miami, Nov. 19. Skirts and Scuffs will continue to cover her races here at Danica’s Dozen.
Danica's Dozen: Bristol recap Danica's Dozen: Bristol recap Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Friday, March 25, 2011 Rating: 5