NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Danica Patrick will start from the rear of the field for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-it 355 at Watkins Glen Sunday. Patrick had already blown an engine in the first practice Friday and under NASCAR’s rules an engine change means that no matter where she qualifies Saturday she will start from the rear.
That turned out to be the least of her worries however. During the closing minutes of the final 90 minute practice session Patrick’s Chevy slid into the tire wall near the chicane.
“I blew a tire,” a frustrated Patrick said. “I have no idea. I think it was only two laps, the second lap on tires. So apparently the No. 20 was radioing in saying there was some smoke. I never saw any, but he said he saw it and said ‘you guys should pit.’ Just in the carousel there is so much load on the left-front there that I guess that was the go spot for it. It has been a record horrible day I’m pretty sure.”
Crewmembers later found that the left front shock had failed and popped the tire.
“I mean I was actually trying to – I left my left my left hand on the wheel and I went for the gear shifter because I was trying to go down a gear to try to get it sideway so it would just sort of hit the left-side so it wouldn’t go in front,” she said. “I was going from second, but I was going to second. So I’m just not used to crashing at such slow speeds that I needed first gear to save it. Anyway, I’m sure it would have been not good either way. I just kind of hit my hand. It was one of the slow ones. What a terrible day…”
Despite the terrible afternoon the Stewart-Haas Racing driver tried to look on the bright side.
“The only positive thing is that I’m hoping I’m using up all my bad luck and mistakes and all the bad stuff in one day, so that I can get it out of the system before we got to the next one.,” Patrick said. “On the second thought I suppose that after an engine change this morning we were starting in the back anyway. Third I would say if you are going to have to start at the back of a track the strategies are all over the place on road courses and it just might push us into something that works.”
As the crew looked at the damage, Patrick talked about her strategy for coming from the back of the field Sunday.
“You just try and get off sequence,” Patrick said. “I think that from the beginning – there are only two to three stops that are really needed so you’ve got to start from the beginning and just try and pit when nobody else does. If a yellow comes out you stay out and go long on fuel to try and make it in two stops and if nobody is coming in and trying to stretch it then you come in and hope for a yellow, then when the caution comes out you don’t pit and they do. Then you just fight for your life after that to not be driven over. I feel like the tires have been pretty consistent this weekend, so I think that is something we can pull off if everything goes our way.”
After confirming the shock problem, crew chief Tony Gibson said the team will be forced to a backup car for Sunday.
“We will put a different motor in it,” he said. “We are going to change motors.”
With Friday’s practice being the final one prior to Saturday’s knockout qualifying session, Gibson said the little time they do get on track Saturday will be put to good use.
“We will just treat qualifying like another practice session.,” he said. “We will run as many laps as we can run and work on the car.”
AJ Allmendinger led the final practice with a lap of 68.538 which translates to 128.688 mph. NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Saturday with coverage starting at 11:30 a.m on ESPN2.