Danica's Dozen: Chicagoland recap

Credit: Tissot
After jumping into the NASCAR pool last year, IndyCar star Danica Patrick entered her second season of Nationwide Series competition in 2011, driving the No. 7 Go Daddy Chevrolet Impala for JR Motorsports. Patrick will compete in 12 Nationwide races this season after running 13 events last year. For the remainder of Patrick's races, check back here at Skirts and Scuffs for a recap of her day.

After a nine-race absence, Danica Patrick rejoined the NASCAR Nationwide Series at her home track, Chicagoland Speedway. The IndyCar star was fresh coming off a 10th-place finish in the Indianapolis 500, and rampant speculation surrounded her racing future.

Despite not having set foot in a stockcar for two months, Patrick earned her second-best career finish in Saturday’s STP 300, finishing 10th in the No. 7 Tissot Chevrolet Impala for JR Motorsports. Her solid, consistent performance at the 1.5-mile track not only demonstrated her growing talent at intermediate tracks, but showed how far Patrick has come in just 18 Nationwide starts.

Last summer, Patrick qualified 28th and finished 24th in her first stockcar race at Chicagoland. The Roscoe, Ill., native had kept the car clean in what was then her best finish in five starts, and even had moments of looking racy. Though largely an uneventful night for her, it was a big step in the right direction in her NASCAR education.

With momentum from her top-10 finish at Indy, Patrick looked to capitalize in her return visit to her home track. But first she had to address speculation about her racing future. ESPN reported that a deal was nearly done for Patrick to move completely over to NASCAR in 2012, running the Nationwide Series full-time before heading to Sprint Cup in 2013. But last week Patrick said that no decision had been made and likely would not be made until after the season.

After a busy week that included IndyCar testing at the Milwaukee Mile, a fan Q&A on Twitter, and two days of interviews leading up to her Nationwide return, Patrick was ready to go racing at Chicagoland.


Friday’s practices found Patrick back in the No. 7 car, but with a new look. Instead of the usual bright green GoDaddy.com paint scheme, Patrick’s car donned a cool black scheme with Tissot as primary sponsor.

In the day’s first practice session, Patrick was 22nd fastest, with a lap of 166.929 mph (32.349 seconds). According to the Twitter account run by Patrick’s official website team, she initially took a few laps to “get comfortable with the car and shake off the cobwebs.” As the session went on, Patrick reported the "car felt consistent and predictable," according to the Twitter account.

In the second session she was 17th quickest, with a lap of 170.363 (31.697 seconds). Patrick improved over the course of the two practices by nearly 3 mph, but was still off the leaders’ speed of 174 mph.

Race day

Saturday’s qualifying session was rained out, so the starting lineup for the STP 300 was determined by practice speeds. As a result, Patrick’s JRM teammate Aric Almirola started on the pole, while Patrick started 16th in her return to her home track.

The No. 7 car was set up tight from the start in what crew chief Tony Eury Jr. said would give Patrick confidence early on. From there, the No. 7 crew would work to make the car looser through adjustments during the race.

Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images for NASCAR
Twenty laps in, Patrick had dropped a few spots back to 19th, but her lap times were consistent with those of the leaders. When a competition caution came out on lap 27 due to the earlier rain, the No. 7 crew went a half round down on the trackbar and took rubber out of the left rear to loosen the car up. Patrick restarted 16th and hovered between 16th and 18th until Mikey Kile’s blown engine brought out the second caution on lap 63. Patrick restarted 11th, but fell back to 15th. She tried running different lines but reported the car was still “too tight.”

Patrick continued to run consistently and by lap 109 she was 16th, the last car on the lead lap and about 28 seconds behind the race leader. Patrick made a green-flag pit stop on lap 117 but fell a lap down when the third caution flew for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hitting the wall on lap 122. The ESPN broadcast team said that since Patrick was not a lap down when she entered pit road, she must have had an issue either going into the pits or out.

After the restart, Patrick was running 18th, the first car one lap down. When a caution came out on lap 139 for Brad Keselowski’s engine, Keselowski’s loss was Patrick’s gain. Patrick had put herself in the lucky dog position and was able to get back on the lead lap.

She radioed to Eury Jr., “I don’t know if I could deal with a lot more oversteer,” meaning she didn’t want the car any looser than what it already was. She restarted 15th.

Within 10 laps Patrick was up a spot to 14th, battling Ricky Stenhouse Jr. She went down to the apron to keep momentum around the No. 01 car of Mike Wallace. On lap 152, Patrick passed Michael Annett for 13th.

As the race winded down and fuel strategy played out, Patrick picked up another spot when Elliott Sadler pitted for gas with seven laps to go. She climbed her way to 10th and that’s where she finished, one lap down, at the STP 300.

It was a good night for JR Motorsports as both of the team’s drivers finished in the top 10. Almirola finished 4th, his best finish of the season.


After the two-month break Patrick had taken from stockcars to focus on IndyCar, there was some uncertainty as to how competitive she would be in her Nationwide return at Chicagoland. However, Patrick laid all doubts to rest by claiming her second top 10 of the season and her second-best career finish. Her best finish was earlier this season at Las Vegas when she came in fourth, besting Sara Christian’s 5th-place finish in 1949 to become the highest-finishing woman in NASCAR history.

Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Chicagoland also marked Patrick’s fourth finish inside the top 20 in five starts this year. She finished 14 spots better than her first start at Chicagoland a year ago, continuing the trend of improving upon her first visit when she runs a track for the second time. The numbers also show a remarkable improvement over her first five races in 2010, when Patrick finished 35th, 31st, 36th, 30th and 24th.

Patrick was competitive from the start of Saturday’s race, running consistently in the area where she started (around 16th place) and running fast lap times throughout the event, picking it up at the end to finish in the top 10. Last year, Patrick would drop off significantly at the start of the race but would run faster lap times by the end of the race, though usually when it was too late to capitalize on it. Saturday’s race indicates marked improvement in this area. She also looked racy, battling Trevor Bayne, Steven Wallace, Stenhouse and Annett for position.

The STP 300 also cemented what many have come to notice about Patrick: she has become quickly attuned to running the circuit’s 1.5-mile intermediate tracks. The promise she showed last year at Las Vegas, Charlotte and Homestead has translated this year into solid finishes of 17th at Phoenix, 4th at Las Vegas and 10th at Chicagoland.

One thing Patrick can improve on is her pit entry and exit. After the race’s halfway point, there was some kind of issue when she went into the pits on the lead lap and came out one lap down. This is something she can work on as she continues her NASCAR education.

During the race, Patrick reverted to IndyCar speak when she said she wasn’t sure she “could deal with a lot more oversteer.” She had gotten away from the IndyCar terminology during her NASCAR starts earlier this year, becoming comfortable enough to use “loose” to describe the car. I would chalk this up to her running in IndyCar the last two months, a side effect of trying to balance competing in both series at the same time.

Up next

Patrick returns to IndyCar this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway as she embarks upon another break from NASCAR. Her next Nationwide race is July 1 at Daytona. At the start of the season, she became the first woman to lead a lap at the superspeedway and finished 14th after running in the top 12 for much of the race.

After Daytona, Patrick will be back 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: 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: Chicagoland recap Danica's Dozen: Chicagoland recap Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Wednesday, June 08, 2011 Rating: 5