KANNAPOLIS, N.C.– Danica Patrick doesn’t exactly have a favorite track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. But there are a few that are high on the like list and one of them is New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
The 1.058-mile oval in central New Hampshire has been a favorite of Patrick’s even though she’s only raced there five times.
She finished sixth in the 2011 IndyCar race and 14th in the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series race, but comes to this week’s Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup Series race with a bit of momentum.
In her last four races, she has averaged a 16th-place finish and has finished 18th or better six times in 18 races – more than she did in all 36 last year. Since the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway tour stop in May, she has averaged a starting spot of 15.6, which is an almost 100-percent improvement on her average of 30.1 for all races in 2013.
Last week at Daytona, Patrick finished eighth – her third career top-10 result. But it wasn’t without the trials and tribulations to get there.
The race was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday morning due to rain, and then the drivers got in just seven laps before rain delayed the race for 25 minutes. Once they got going again, there was a 16-car accident on lap 21, and Patrick somehow avoided any damage despite having to go low and then high on the racetrack to avoid wrecking cars. Other than a small vibration and needing repairs to the left front of the car, all was good with her machine.
Patrick worked her way into the top-10 by lap 80 and was ready for a midrace pit stop when she slid through her pit box. She had to back up and get in position to get fuel and tires and fell back to 30th, about 15 seconds behind the lead pack.
As she began to move up with the race nearing lap 100, a massive 26-car accident on the backstretch found Patrick in the upper part of the racetrack with nowhere to go. Amazingly, she got through it with only minor damage – a flat left-front tire. It was a crafty bit of driving that enabled her to go from 22nd to eighth in one lap.
From there, only six more laps would be run under green, and Patrick stayed in eighth place when the mighty rains came once more. The officials called an end to the race after 112 of the scheduled 160 laps.
Patrick credits her improved results this season to her rapidly growing experience in stock cars and the effort of her entire Tony Gibson-led crew on the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Gibson is no stranger to success at Loudon, having served as crew chief when Ryan Newman earned a pole and victory there in July 2011 and another pole in September 2011. In eight races as car chief for Jeff Gordon between 1998 and 2001, the No. 24 team finished sixth or better seven times at Loudon, won three poles and took the checkered flag in August of 1998.
Patrick and Gibson look to put together another good run this weekend, and then enjoy the second and final off weekend of the season.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Overall thoughts on New Hampshire?
“I really like going there. I like that area of the country and like the restaurants and what it has to offer. I haven’t been there a whole lot, but I enjoy it and like it. We were OK last year and I’m anxious to see what we’ve got this year. Tony Gibson and his guys have won there before, so I’m ready to get going.”
How challenging is New Hampshire to set up for?
“It’s flat and tough to get around sometimes. You just have to make sure you get through the corners OK and are able to get on the gas quick on the straightaways. It’s tough but, if you have a good car, you can pass and move up through the field. But it can be challenging if it’s not working in your favor.”
You’re coming off an eighth-place finish at Daytona and you have improved on qualifying and race results this year. Talk about that.
“We’re getting better. The more I get to these racetracks and get experience, the better I am. I think we’re qualifying better, for sure, and I think our race results are better. A lot of that has to do with the GoDaddy team and Tony Gibson giving me good cars. It’s a process, but I think it’s moving in the right direction.”
There was more rain at Daytona. Talk about that.
“It’s tougher for the guys more than anything. They lost a precious Sunday off. It’s been a tough year with weather at both Daytonas, at Bristol and at Texas. But it’s also part of it. I still can’t believe we got through two accidents, blew by my pit stall and finished eighth. It was pretty unbelievable.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew chief of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS:
You were working at the first Sprint Cup Series race at Loudon in July 1993 and have been to every race conducted there. Talk about your first race there and what you remember.
“I was there with Jimmy Hensley as the driver and Geoff Bodine was in the process of buying the team since Alan (Kulwicki) had been killed earlier in the year. It was a nice little racetrack. I’ve always loved Martinsville and it was real similar to that. I thought it was a really cool, really neat racetrack. I’ve been fortunate to run really well there and been with some great drivers. It’s probably one of my better tracks because it kind of fits my style of setup stuff. It’s a really cool track and I loved it the first time I saw it. I’m looking forward to going back there and I’m glad we race there twice.”
- Charlie Brim
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