Danica Patrick finished a career-best 17th in the AdvoCare 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, giving herself and the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet team plenty of momentum as they prepare for her first full-time Sprint Cup Series season in 2013.
Patrick, who drives the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing via a collaborative agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), improved upon her previous best of 24th on Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The Phoenix race was her 10th career Sprint Cup Series start and her last of 2012.
While Patrick had one of her best races of the season, her 17th-place result came after a wild day for her and several competitors at the 1-mile oval.
After starting 37th, Patrick was running top-10 lap times despite her car’s tight handling. Crew chief Tony Gibson was able to improve the car’s handling throughout the race, but the duo still needed track position as Patrick went one lap down during a green-flag run from laps 59-168.
Patrick continued to chip away at the cars in front her, climbing the standings until she was in 22nd-place and one of only four cars one lap down on a lap-276 restart. She passed Bobby Labonte on the restart to take 21st when the caution flew again on lap 281 for a spin by her SHR teammate Tony Stewart. By being the first car one lap down, Patrick was able to take advantage of the “lucky dog,” which allowed her to join the leaders on the lead lap.
Then things really got interesting.
Patrick was in the top-20 when a four-car accident on lap 312, triggered by Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer, brought out the red flag and set up a green-white-checkered finish. And as a donnybrook between the teams of the two feuding drivers made the garage area crazy, the race’s final restart made things even crazier.
Patrick was 14th on the restart when she and Jeff Burton entered the backstretch dogleg on the on the penultimate lap, and the right-front of Burton’s car hit the left rear of Patrick’s machine, sending her car spinning into the SAFER Barrier on outside retaining wall between turns three and four. Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet limped off the wall, down to the apron of the track and along the frontstretch, leaking oil from an oil line that ruptured during the crash.
But the caution flag was never thrown, and Patrick had no choice but to continue to drive her wounded racecar as far as possible for the best potential finish. The leaders raced down the backstretch and into turn three, only to discover, as race winner Kevin Harvick said, “There was more oil than there was asphalt.”
Harvick tip-toed off turn four and crossed the finish line first to take the win. Denny Hamlin followed, with polesitter Kyle Busch – who led four times for a race-high 237 laps – in third. Behind the trio was calamity, as cars spun in the oil and careened off each other.
Patrick’s car served as a proverbial ping-pong ball and briefly got airborne after getting hit hard in the rear by the out of control cars of Kurt Busch and Paul Menard, who had crashed behind her.
Patrick was checked and released without injury from the infield care center.
“We had a green-white-checkered; it was a nice exciting finish for the fans,” Patrick said. “Got around (turns) one and two and came off had decent distance on the No. 31 (Burton) and he went down and took the apron got down into (turn) three, and I did not think he was near close enough to be on me going into (turn) three. I left a little bit of room, not a ton of room, for sure, but I think Tony Gibson (crew chief) said he went down and talked to him, and he said he just went in too deep.
“Clipped my left-rear, spun me around, and I just tried to limp back to the line. I didn’t know exactly how much damage I had or what it was, but just trying to limp to the line and get the finish on the lead lap, whatever that was. Still our best finish, but you always want more. I was 14th, I think, or something right around there, and that would have been a really good finish for the Go Daddy Chevrolet.”
Gibson was ecstatic with Patrick’s effort throughout the day.
“Another great day,” Gibson said. “Everybody did a really good job today. She raced hard. She had some great runs today. She raced herself to the ‘lucky dog’ there and got a lap back. Then she was solid, man. She had a top-10, top-12 car all day long. She deserved to finish 12th, at least. But she got wrecked by (Jeff) Burton. But it’s our best finish. 17th. We’ll take that. But we know we were better than that.
“She’s getting better, and better and better. It just makes up pumped for next year. She said herself, ‘I wish we were going to Homestead.’ It is just pumping everybody up. It’s exciting. I’m glad we got these two races in because it just shows her she can drive and run with these guys. It puts confidence in our guys, that yes, she can do it. Around the whole table, it is awesome for the Go Daddy Chevrolet team.”
Harvick’s win in the AdvoCare 500k was his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Phoenix.
Hamlin finished .580 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Menard and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 38 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish the 319-lap race, which was extended seven laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
The final race of the Sprint Cup Series season, the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, begins at 3 p.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 18. Live coverage by ESPN begins with a pre-race show at 2 p.m.
Patrick will make her final NASCAR Nationwide Series start for JR Motorsports in the Ford 300 on Saturday, Nov. 17 at Homestead. She begins her first full-time Sprint Cup Series season in February 2013 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway driving the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.