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Saturday, July 14, 2012
Danica Patrick's push for top 10 falls short

By Brant James

Danica Patrick was told to push, so she pushed. And when she tried to push herself to just her second top-10 Nationwide Series finish this season, she found the limit of her race car and current abilities on flat racetracks, spinning out with 50 laps remaining and finishing 14th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Patrick was 10th and attempting to pass the lapped car of Jason Bowles on Lap 150 when her aggressive drive into Turn 4 sent her No. 7 Chevrolet drifting up, making contact with Bowles' Toyota and causing her to slide. She managed to avoid further contact and returned quickly to the track after pitting for new right-side tires and some minor work to her fenders, rejoining the field at 13th. Patrick spent the remainder of the laps attempting to again catch Brian Scott, with whom she had contested positions most of the race, but succumbed with three left and was passed for position by Mike Bliss.

"I know it was my fault," Patrick said over team radio after the race, adding that her race car, with which she had been generally pleased for most of the afternoon, was at its most unwieldy in the final stint.

Patrick's incident with Bowles was reminiscent of the one that ruined her first Nationwide race at New Hampshire in 2010, when Morgan Shepherd washed up into her on the seventh lap, sending her out of control. Admitting that flat tracks such as NHMS remain a weakness after her transition from IndyCar, and that her first New Hampshire experience was "not stellar," she entered the race, she said, trying to keep her expectations "realistic." She qualified 18th and raced inside the top 15 for most of the race Saturday.

Patrick, who remains ninth unofficially in driver points, may get another shot at improving her Nationwide performance at New Hampshire next season if negotiations to bring her back to JR Motorsports progress as vice president Kelley Earnhardt-Miller hopes. Earnhardt-Miller said Patrick "definitely" wishes to undertake a part-time Nationwide schedule in 2013 as she begins her first Sprint Cup season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Talks are underway with Patrick's agents, and JRM's goal is to field two full-time cars, Earnhardt-Miller said.

"Obviously, she's not going to want to run the full schedule and so we would run Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] in a few select races, and if we can run her in a few select races we would love to do that," Earnhardt-Miller said. "We've been back and forth talking with her folks at IMG and trying to talk to her about what events she might want to run so that we can start filling in the gaps with what Dale runs versus what she would want to run. That second car would probably do something like we've done in the past where we would have a variety of Cup drivers and somebody else come in to maybe fill the races out.

"It's kind of a fluid conversation going back and forth. She wants to race and she wants to race here, so the ball is probably more in JR Motorsports' court to say, 'This is what we have available for you and this is what we can do.'"

Spotter Rick Carelli assured Patrick that her Saturday start for JRM was yet another learning experience, completing a fervent afternoon of coaching from him and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Patrick and her crew chief have bemoaned an inability to reconcile strong runs with good finishes -- being swept up in other's accidents notwithstanding -- and a constant stream of communication Saturday suggested an effort to keep Patrick informed and inspired. Patrick, who was wrecked at Daytona International Speedway last week late in a race she had led for 13 laps, responded to Carelli's urging by deftly working Scott near the midpoint of the race, waiting until he overdrove a corner to tuck underneath him to take 10th place. Carelli implored Patrick forward with, "Gotta get to him, babe," just moments before she chased down Bowles in the corner.