Danica Patrick battled a tight-handling racecar and a late pit-road speeding penalty en route to a 28th-place finish Sunday in the Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), started 41st and dealt early with a tight-handling car. While Patrick provided superb feedback regarding the car, crew chief Tony Gibson began tinkering with the handling of the GoDaddy.com Chevy with tire pressure, wedge and track bar adjustments, as well as inserting and extracting spring rubbers from the rear springs.
As the race moved along, Patrick’s car began to come to life. But the rapid pace of the race around the .533-mile oval – and lack of caution periods – put her three laps down to the leaders with 150 laps to go. Despite being three laps down, Patrick was still in 25th place with a top-20 result within reach.
But after a pit stop under caution on lap 350 for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment, NASCAR officials ruled Patrick’s car exceeded the 30-mph pit-road speed limit in zone six (the end of pit road). She was forced to serve a pass-through penalty.
After serving the penalty shortly after the green flag came out, Patrick fell to 30th, four laps behind the leaders. While a good finish was out of the question, her Sprint Cup Series education continued.
“There are a lot of things that I have to work on at this point in time,” Patrick said. “For us, the most important thing is to find a decent balance to start off the race so that we don’t drop back.
“We’ve been really loose the last couple of races, so we wanted to make sure we were tight. So we decided that was our accomplishment today was to aim to be tight, and we were. So we probably didn’t need to, and, in fact, we probably kind of knew we were over-compensating. But we just never really got it completely freed up like we needed to. It was better later in the race, but by then the damage is done.”
Patrick’s SHR teammate, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished seventh to score his second top-10 finish of the season and his 13th top-10 in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for SHR, finished 31st after a cut left-rear tire sent him spinning into the turn one wall on lap nine of the 500-lap race. His crew repaired the No. 14 machine after a lengthy stay on pit road. After returning to the track in 41st, Stewart gained 10 positions by the time the checkered flag dropped.
Kasey Kahne won the Food City 500 to score his 15th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Bristol.
Kyle Busch finished 1.7 seconds behind Kahne in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newman, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 66 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round four of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He gained eight spots to climb to 23rd, 79 points behind series leader and reigning Sprint Cup champion Keselowski. Stewart dropped six positions to 24th, 81 points out of first. Patrick picked up two spots to rise to 28th, 97 points behind Keselowski.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 16th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Auto Club 400 Sunday, March 24 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2:30 p.m.