Danica Patrick could tell from the drop of the green flag that her car was going to be a handful in the Kobalt Tools 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Despite a valiant effort by crew chief Tony Gibson, the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) never came to life, and Patrick finished a disappointing 33rd, six laps behind the leaders.
“It was a real tough day, no doubt,” Patrick said. “We knew we were going to have tough days, but this is not the kind of tough day we thought about. We need to figure out how and why it (the car) changes so much from practice to the race and really learn this new car. I was extremely loose the whole time. We made it a little bit better in the middle of the race, to the point where it would go for half the run, but by the end of every run I would find myself very, very loose again. Being behind traffic, the aerodynamics change a lot, and it’s a handful. I felt like I was about to spin on the frontstraight. We just have to figure out how to make it better and work our butts off to make sure that we never have this day again.”
Nothing seemed to cure the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS despite Gibson’s efforts during pit stops, from the normal track bar, wedge and tire pressure adjustments, to the extreme spring rubber inserts and the packer adjustments in the shocks.
“These are the days, and I said this on the radio, these are the days you earn your money, not the days like Daytona where you run up in the top-five all day,” said Patrick, who finished eighth in the Daytona 500. “Those days are great, but you’re just marching forward. These are the days that you have to be strong and you have to work through it and not let it drag you down.”
Patrick’s SHR teammate, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS, finished 11th. The third member of SHR, Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet for SHR, finished 38th after an engine failure ended his day after just 234 laps.
Matt Kenseth won the Kobalt Tools 400 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at Las Vegas. Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday Sunday and became the third driver in Sprint Cup history to win on his birthday. Cale Yarborough accomplished it twice, while Kyle Busch did it once.
Kasey Kahne, who led six times for a race-high 114 laps, finished .594 of a second behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 25 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race.
With round three of 36 complete, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is 18th, 57 points behind series leader Johnson. Patrick is 30th, 76 points out of first, while Newman is 31st, 79 points behind Johnson.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 15 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 18th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Food City 500 Sunday, March 17 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.