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Saturday, August 24, 2013
Patrick finds silver lining at Bristol

By Brant James
espnW.com

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick's crew hustles in the pits during Saturday night's race in Bristol, Tenn.

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Danica Patrick probably would have appreciated a cold beverage by the last of what she had earlier deemed "500 painful laps" around Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday.

She would rather have waited to park, though.

"Some a--h--- threw a beer at me out of Turn 4," she radioed as she finished 26th, seven laps down in the Irwin Tools Night Race Sprint Cup event. "I can smell it through the grille."

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick was pleased with her 26th-place finish, especially after driving with damage for much of the race.

It was an unacceptable display of social malfeasance but perhaps a fitting nightcap to an unforgiving night at the .533-mile concrete bullring. Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet had been fouled by a hard swipe of the wall after running through a slippery substance on Lap 113, which prompted a long slog of miles and attempts to make the car more manageable.

But a spate of late accidents took out several drivers who had been running ahead of her in the top 20, allowing her to recover 10 positions in the final 50 laps and burnish the finishing position. And in that, Patrick took solace.

"Overall, I would honestly say we are still on a good streak of running strong," said Patrick, who has finishes of 20th, 23rd and 26th, respectively, in her past three races. "There is nothing you can do about getting into the wall and having damage. We came back as best as we could and made the car as good as it was at the end. That is a positive."

Patrick's return to Bristol was far less dramatic than her first night race last August, when she recovered from a weekend of slow practice sessions and a 43rd-place qualifying performance to dabble with the top 20 in the final 50 laps. Patrick's bid was ended, however, when Regan Smith wrecked her from behind as she ran in the 19th position. She finished 29th. Following the lead of her Sprint Cup owner, Tony Stewart, Patrick traversed the high banking of the track to wag her finger at Smith as his car passed by under caution.

Patrick started 41st and finished 28th at Bristol this spring.

"We made gains definitely from that," crew chief Tony Gibson said of Patrick's return to Bristol. "Obviously, our practice was good off the truck. We were solid, qualified solid. Up until she got in the fence, she was solid and doing a nice job."

Patrick started 22nd and was running no worse than 25th in the opening 50 laps and held off a persistent attack from Clint Bowyer. But she damaged the splitter -- a blade-like aerodynamic device that runs horizontally along the front bottom of the car -- brushing the wall.

Gibson called for two pit stops on an ensuing caution -- from an unrelated incident -- to change tires and mitigate any damage to Patrick's fenders. Crumpled fenders in the close-quarters racing environment of short tracks such as Bristol frequently cause flat tires.

"We were running 21st, and the same time the thing happened with [Joey Logano] and she said she hit something and just went slamming into the wall," Gibson said, surveying the scrapes and deformities running the length of Patrick's race car. "It bent all the splitter bars down and got on the racetrack pretty hard, and we couldn't get them back up and clear the racetrack. It just kind of killed our day at that point. It was just survival.

"She did a good job keeping her head. The guys did a nice job, staying calm staying cool, staying out of trouble, and at the end, we ended up coming out with a decent finish from what we had. I'm disappointed after a good qualifying run, and up until the time we hit the fence, we were running in the top 21. If you take that part out, we're making gains. You can't really fix what happened."

Patrick settled into 33rd place for much of the event after sufficient repairs were made but brushed the wall again on Lap 346 after an adjustment didn't work.

"My goal, honestly, in my mind, is like, 'Man, if we can come away with a top 30 with having these problems, then that is all right,' and we finished 26th through attrition and staying out of trouble," she said. "We will take it and move on."

Sort of like that can of beer.