Danica Patrick came to Richmond International Raceway on Friday night expecting better, and with reason. The .75-mile short track was one of her favorites during her IndyCar tenure. She had improved her performance in her second trip to a track seven out of eight times in her brief NASCAR career. And an eighth-place finish in her previous Nationwide Series race, at Texas, had provided a much needed boost.
None of that translated Friday, as Patrick struggled with her No. 7 Chevrolet all night, finishing 21st. Patrick had finished 18th at Richmond last fall and deemed her result Friday a "bummer."
"I think I had higher hopes, to be honest," she said in a postrace television interview. "These are the days when you hope you can make the most out of a great weekend."
Patrick failed to do that after posting a top-10 practice speed Friday morning and qualifying 16th. Her race car was loose from the outset, however, requiring aggressive adjustments to counteract. Concerns began before the race when she complained her car was "chugging" during the parade lap. Things worsened from there.
Patrick exclaimed "vibration" over team radio by Lap 13; the often ominous symptom was ultimately diagnosed as a result of brakes that were not properly warm and suffering from sediment accumulation. Still, they provided an extra worrisome variable on a troublesome night. By a Lap 68 caution, Patrick radioed crew chief Tony Eury Jr. that "it quite honestly feels like something is wrong. It really does" as she struggled to control the car through corners.
She fell to 25th, the last car on the lead lap, by Lap 108. She had improved to 22nd but was lapped with 56 remaining. Patrick radioed that the car was "feeling really bad," but Eury instructed her to "start concentrating" with 20 laps remaining until her final pit stop.
Patrick salvaged her night somewhat in the last 30 laps following the stop, improving to 21st and passing action sports/rally star Travis Pastrana, who was making his Nationwide Series debut. The ebullient Pastrana, never one to quell his emotions or underscore a moment, had screeched, "I passed Danica!" to his crew chief after overtaking Patrick earlier in the race.
Patrick sampled Friday night short-track racing twice, being pushed high out of the line early in the race by James Buescher and exchanging bumps with Robert Richardson Jr. on Lap 135 of 250. Richardson rammed Patrick from behind in retaliation but sustained a tire rub and finished 34th.
"I earned my pay today," Patrick quipped after the race. "Everybody hung in there. That's all I can ask."