When you’re an athlete and your name is trending on Twitter, either something very bad has happened or something very good. For Danica Patrick it was the latter Saturday night during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at Kansas Speedway.
The weekend started out well for the second year driver at Stewart-Haas Racing .Friday Patrick qualified ninth, her best qualifying effort at a non-restrictor plate track. Saturday night continued the trend as Patrick made her way into the top 10 before the halfway point. She never lost touch with the leaders and in the final stages, Patrick began to make aggressive moves towards the front. On a restart on lap 161, she was in fifth.
On lap 172 however the big move of her night came when Patrick passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. and her boss Tony Stewart in one swoop to take over the third spot. Suddenly the Twitter universe lit up as “Danica Patrick” began to trend and many wondered if she could close the deal.
“I was like, no yellow!” Patrick said of the move into third. “When I was fifth I was thinking this is good, you know? I feel faster than them. They got caught up in traffic in (Turns) 3 and 4 and got checked-up and I got underneath them. But when I’m running third, I’m honestly trying not to think about the fact that I’m running third, and the fact that I’ve been looking at that car in front of me the whole race and I need to go pass that car.”
“It’s probably best really to think about it more like pass the next car for me than being in a place that I’m not normally in,” she added. “When you just think about it car by car, I think it’s a little bit more calming. The last thing you want to do is get excited out there and start overdriving it and making mistakes.”
The move around Earnhardt and Stewart wasn’t the most memorable moment on the night for Patrick though.
“Honestly the most rewarding part of my night was probably when I drove around the outside of the No. 48 on a restart.,” Patrick said. “That was probably my most rewarding thing of the night. I say that with all the respect in the world. It’s a big deal because he is Jimmie Johnson. Aside from that, I was really just overall proud that we stayed up front all day. That was the biggest thing. “
Indeed Patrick did stay near the front, falling outside the top ten only after the final round of green flag pit stops with 30 laps to go.
“When the race started it was about finishing the weekend off right and just staying up there,” Patrick said.
“You know you are going to go up, you are going to go down a little bit and we sure enough did that, but we more than held our own through the whole race,” she added. I’m extremely proud of this crew for building a new car that was just awesome. It was so good on restarts and long runs and tires getting old. Hard work pays off and they definitely put the hard work into it.”
When the checkered flag fell, Patrick found herself in 7th place a career best topping her 8th place in last year’s Daytona 500. The finish was more impressive considering that it came on a 1.5-mile track, a track that makes up the bulk of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.
“I think what says even more are two things: It was really good on restarts and it was really good when it wasn’t quite right, and really good on long runs,” Patrick said. “I think that just goes to show that this is a new car and they built a great one. And we’ve got more of these coming. That’s the even better news.”
While Patrick gave credit to her crew led by crew chief Tony Gibson she added that her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, who led the most laps and finished second Saturday night, has been helpful.
“It definitely paid off in qualifying for sure,” she said. “And it does pay off in the race, too. But the little things that he gave me advice on for qualifying really worked. That’s the kind of stuff that I was really excited about having when Kevin and Kurt (Busch) came on to the team and having Tony (Stewart) back full time was being able to get those little tidbits from those guys and fast-forward my learning curve instead of having to learn it all myself.
“It’s really cool when you have teammates that are unconditional like that that want to help you,” she added. “And when everyone is better and we all get better, it pumps the team up and everybody wants it even more.”
More importantly perhaps the self-assurance that comes from such a finish for Patrick seems almost immeasurable.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” she said. “I’ve always believed that in the right situation, that I can do it. And it’s with all respect that these little moments like when you drive by Jimmie Johnson on the outside, stuff like that, that makes me really proud of myself and little moments like that that give me a little bit more confidence.”
As for the 7th place finish, Patrick wants to remember it for a long time to come.
“I guarantee you we’re going work even harder now,” Patrick said. “It’s not just sitting back. We’re going to work harder because we love where we’re at and this is what we work for. When you taste it you don’t want to let it go.”