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Saturday, May 26, 2012
A drained Danica Patrick 13th at Charlotte

By Brant James

CONCORD, N.C. -- Danica Patrick was temporarily drained. Tony Eury Jr. was temporarily dejected. Patrick's early-race pep talk might have been the most memorable facet of a 13th-place Nationwide Series finish Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Otherwise, Patrick said, the race was "very average." Patrick qualified third -- briefly holding the provisional pole -- and started ninth on a final restart, but slumped to 14th in the final 46 laps as she continued to wrestle a No. 7 Chevrolet whose handling the team had been unable to tune. Patrick made a last-lap pass to finish 13th.

"Right now, standing here, I might as well say we're a little dejected because we wanted a top 10," crew chief Eury said. "But finishing 13th isn't a too-terrible day, as many (Sprint) Cup guys as there were in the field."

Patrick, who gained a spot to ninth in the driver standings, recovered on a pit wall with water and cooling packs.

"We qualified third. That was pretty darn good," she said between sips of water. "And missed the pole by a hundredth or so. We moved around the pack all day, and unfortunately, we just couldn't maintain a top 10 at the end there."

Eury, who huddled between haulers with Patrick and crew members after the race, was frustrated the team was unable to perfect the car's handling, a problem on several occasions this season. He had barked over the team radio at his crew after a first unsatisfactory pit stop, prompting Patrick to offer, "We've only had one stop. ... Let's keep our heads up. ... I'll drive like hell on the start. ... There's nothing we can do now," in a bit of role reversal.

"I was [angry] because I know she's trying her hardest, we've got a good chance, we're starting up front and then we had a bad pit stop, so I got frustrated with the guys," Eury said. "We'd kind of addressed that a couple times already this year. [I'm] just looking to have solid pit stops. I'm not looking for the fastest, I'm just looking for something solid and consistent every week. I was just letting the guys know I was kind of frustrated with it."

Patrick raced in the top 15 for most of the race but fell briefly to 29th, a lap down, after a caution was issued immediately after she pitted under green. Following a caution, she zoomed back through the field to find her equilibrium in the top 15 again. She restarted ninth after a caution with 46 laps remaining.

The Nationwide race was a sweatbox of a prelude to her inaugural start in the Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 Sunday. The schedule Saturday included two Sprint Cup practices, and a Nationwide qualifying session and race.

"If we improve [the car's cooling systems] a little, that'll help," Patrick said. "Middle of the day, it was beating-down sun 90 percent of the race. Stick two Cup practices on top of that, where I'm sure as hell not loose hands out there. I am like on top of the wheel with a death grip because I'm just learning. I'm sure it's a little more exhausting for me being so tense at the wheel than someone who might be a little more comfortable than me."

Patrick said after qualifying that she was finally beginning to feel more comfortable in the 11th race of her first full Nationwide season. She had momentarily worked closer to a preseason goal during qualifying but was surpassed by pole-winner Joey Logano and Austin Dillon.

"I just walked away from Tony and said it's good to be pissed off at a [third] right now," she said. "I sort of set a personal goal for myself to have a couple of poles by halfway through the season, and it would have been nice to have gotten that by now, but we're getting better."