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Saturday, April 14, 2012
Danica Patrick makes late dash, finishes eighth

By Brant James

The three weeks away from her first full-time Nationwide Series season helped refresh Danica Patrick. Running in the top-10 in the final laps at Texas Motor Speedway seemed to rejuvenate her.

Patrick used two timely late cautions to regain a spot on the lead lap and later took four fresh tires to make a late dash and finish eighth on Friday night, her best finish this season in six Nationwide events.

Patrick was animated and invigorated after the race, saying in a television interview, "[Crew chief] Tony [Eury] Jr. made a great call. It was really fun. … All in all, it's nice to have a good finish for the team. [It was] tough going at the start of this year."

Patrick was pressing to get back onto the lead lap with 38 laps left. She quipped about a second problem with the lights at Texas Motor Speedway would be handy. A second breaker failure occurred almost simultaneously and Patrick used the beneficiary rule to rejoin the lead lap, where she had raced for most the evening.

Eury then told Patrick of the game plan for the final stretch -- eschew a pit stop on the current caution because four fresh tires would be wasted with her being forced to start at the end of the longest line, 16th. Her current set of tires had only been used for 11 laps, he said, and if she could maintain her position, she could pit for her final set of new tires in the final laps, when he expected chaos to prompt a last caution. The end result, he said: a top-10 finish.

Eury planned the finish well, as Kurt Busch's blown engine with 14 laps left prompted a final caution and Patrick pitted for new tires.

"Gold," said Patrick, then 14th, when the final caution was waved.

"This is good," Eury responded.

Patrick overshot her pit stall on the last stop and had to quickly reverse, but still gained a spot, restarting 13th, directly by JR Motorsports teammate and car-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

An extended caution period reduced the number of remaining laps to six and therefore her opportunity to race toward the front -- "Damn, I need these laps," she said over team radio. But she raced three-wide on multiple occasions and passed rookie teammate Cole Whitt in the final dash.

"It's all there, babe. Go get it," Eury said over the radio in the final laps.

Patrick moved into eighth place with three laps remaining. The finish was her best of the season, beating a 12th-place result at Las Vegas.

Whitt finished 13th, Earnhardt was 14th.

As she crossed the finish line she had quipped, "Got a little tight at the end, otherwise I probably would have won." The finish was her second-best in 31 Nationwide events over parts of three seasons.

Eury, who had said a positive result was crucial for his driver's spirits, and crew chief Rick Carelli had prodded and joked with Patrick throughout the race, keeping her engaged, amused and informed.

She clearly appreciated it, saying, "I like getting fired up. Anyone wants to fire me up, can."