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Rough night in Richmond for Danica
Danica Patrick was not ready for prime time at Richmond International Raceway on Friday night.
While Kevin Harvick won his 38th career Nationwide Series race, a costly mistake by Patrick at the start-finish line on Lap 143 sent her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet on a wild ride against the front stretch wall following contact with Brad Sweet.
She finished 29th.
“I got too close,” Patrick said. “I got into him.”
Patrick qualified 24th. In the first 10 laps she advanced to 20th — but she was far from the top female in the early laps.
On Lap 27, Johanna Long, who qualified eighth, passed Denny Hamlin for fifth place. When Long got the best of the hometown hero, he quipped the move might force him into “an early Nationwide (Series) retirement.”
Long’s luck was short-lived after she lost nine positions in the pits with her part-time team and restarted 14th after the first caution on Lap 44.
Meanwhile Patrick, entering the pits 21st, complained she was “tight in the center” and that her brakes felt “smushy.”
The team gained three spots in the pits for Patrick, but 10 laps later she was back to 20th.
By Lap 83, spotter Tyler Green told Patrick to set up Joe Nemechek and Ryan Newman, who are directly in front of her, by using “a little bit of the apron to cut down underneath her competitors."
“Go by them,” Green said. “You’re better than both those two.”
“I just can’t get by,” Patrick said while working Nemechek.
“Drive up there and put the bumper on him,” crew chief Tony Eury Jr. replied.
Although Patrick kept gnawing at Nemechek, she was lapped by Harvick on Lap 96 while running 21st.
Green reminded Patrick to remain “nice and smooth” and hope for the lucky dog. But Long’s luck ran out first.
Smothered in traffic, Long was unable to improve her position. On Lap 110, she cut a tire and destroyed her car. Long finished 32nd in her 16th start of 2012.
“We had a good car and I was pleased with what was working, and it was moving around at the beginning of the race and passing cars felt good,” Long said.
“It was a little too free, and I felt like I burned my stuff up a little too much. I hate it for all of these guys. We had a run going and it is heartbreaking.”
Prior to the caution, Patrick, then 18th, said her brakes felt “light.” The team could not afford the wave around, so she pitted and restarted 19th. Green attempted to motivate Patrick with the lucky dog, and implored, “Dig hard for me.”
Patrick was battling Sweet down the backstretch. As Sweet closed in on Lap 132, Green suggested Patrick “take a breath and get back in a rhythm."
But Patrick’s main problem occurred 10 laps later. Although Green told his driver she wasn’t clear, Patrick slammed Sweet. Patrick, who ignited her 12th caution of the season, was forced to the garage for repairs after completing 142 laps.
Patrick returned to action on Lap 175 in 31st position, 32 laps off the pace.
“Play with your line a little bit, see if you can learn anything for next time,” Green suggested as Patrick did her best to stay out of the contenders’ way.
She made her final pit stop on Lap 188 and apologized to her team.
“You guys did a good job of putting it back together,” Patrick said. “I’m sorry I wrecked it up today.”
“All you can do is learn from it and go on,” Eury replied.
Despite an accident on Lap 196 and finishing 12th, Elliott Sadler maintained a one-point lead over defending champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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