Following Danica Patrick: Royal Purple 300

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By: Farrah Kaye

While the IndyCar series was in St. Petersburg, Fla. for its season-opener, the NASCAR Nationwide Series was in Fontana, Calif. for the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway.

Danica Patrick, who celebrated her 30th birthday the day after the race, was looking for a good finish at the end of the 300 laps. In 2010, she finished in 30th place, nine laps down and recorded a DNF for a crash after getting caught up in a wreck towards the end of the race.

Her comfort level and knowledge of the tracks and cars are all increasing with time behind the wheel and on the track, something she hoped would help her at Fontana.

“The first time I came here I thought it was a half mile and I didn’t have time to look at the gauges,” Patrick said. “Obviously, it wasn’t a half mile. Definitely, the (comfort) level goes up over time.

“I’ve learned the cars to the point where I can get up to speed quicker than what I used to. Understanding the mechanics has made me more confident in going out there and making sure it’s not going to swap ends on me.”

So far this season, her results have not shown her progress, finishing an average of 22.5 before Fontana.

“My goals are now top 10,” Patrick said. “Things have progressed in the right way. There are times when (the results) don’t show what you’ve done. I, myself, definitely look to the little victories to stay confident and upbeat all the time.”

But that top 10 did not come in the Royal Purple 300. After finishing 22nd in practice and qualifying 21st, Patrick stayed in 21st and 20th positions before her engine started to blow on lap 63 of the 150-lap race. On lap 65, after two laps on pit road with the hood up, her crew pushed the car behind the wall and she recorded a DNF with “engine” as the cause. She finished 35th, officially recorded as having run only 63 of the 150 laps.

She leaves Fontana 17th in points, falling five places, 118 behind the leader.

In the race, Joe Gibbs Racing was trying to get its eighth win in the Nationwide series at the track while Kyle Busch was trying to get his fourth straight Nationwide win at Fontana. Now that Busch drives for his own team, one would have to break the other’s streak.

JGR driver Joey Logano took the pole while Kyle Busch had to start at the end of the field after missing driver introductions. Justin Allgaier, who started second, battled for the lead until his engine blew on lap 112.

Although Elliott Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and at one point Trevor Bayne all battled up front, Logano took the checkered flag, keeping the JGR streak alive.

Stenhouse, who ended up second, said “It was a great day. It was a fun day. The race track was
really racy.”

The series takes a bit of a break before heading to Texas on April 13th. Perhaps the break will be good for Patrick.

“It’s been a tough start for the GoDaddy team,” Patrick said after the DNF at Fontana. “Perhaps it will be a good ending.”

Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Sports and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.

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