Danica doomed by engine problems
The month of May didn't end as Danica Patrick had hoped or her recent performance suggested.
The second-year Sprint Cup driver sparked great anticipation after producing her top finish (seventh) two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, prompting hope that gains made there could translate to the next 1.5-mile venue on the schedule, Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It did, for a while. A career-best qualifying effort of fourth put her near the front in the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night and she diced with the leaders in the early laps, but her race began to unravel on Lap 153 when handling problems dropped her to 23rd position and lapped.
Near the midpoint, she noticed a power shortfall that was eventually diagnosed as a failed cylinder, and on Lap 235 she was rammed from behind by Brian Scott after a spin by Marcos Ambrose frayed the field. By Lap 285, it all came to a billowing smoky finish as Patrick's motor expired, relegating her to a 39th-place finish.
"We'll just remember the good stuff that happened here at Charlotte and at Kansas last race," she said, "and build on that for Dover."
1. The Stewart-Haas Racing library is always open: Teammate Kevin Harvick distilled the context of his advice to Patrick before Kansas as "mash the gas," but there's clearly more he, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch can and have offered her. With Patrick's institutional knowledge regarding tracks and conditions still a work in progress, being able to tap into the experiences of a three-time Cup champion (Stewart), Cup titlist (Busch) and two-time Nationwide champion (Harvick) is invaluable.
2. It takes a village: Copious resources have been marshaled to complete Patrick's transition from open-wheel racing to NASCAR. The research and development team SHR launched last season reaped a reward this month, as a breakthrough made by a David Hyder-led test team at Nashville Superspeedway helped produced her career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas.
3. Don't mess with social networkers bearing cryptocurrency: Patrick was considered a virtual lock to advance to the All-Star Race via the fan vote transfer spot, considering her broad mainstream popularity and team and sponsor's assertive campaigning. But a determined and cleverly executed exploitation of the online voting process by the Reddit community and Dogecoin gave the spot to little-known journeyman Josh Wise. Losing a popularity contest to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and established Sprint Cup personalities in the 2013 Most Popular Driver vote was no surprise. This one, though, could have won you a few ether dollars in a bet.
4. Qualified success: Patrick made a major leap in qualifying, producing a seventh starting spot at Talladega, a ninth at Kansas Speedway and a fourth at Charlotte. She had a debilitating average start of 30.1 as a rookie but has reduced that figure to 23.9 through 12 races this season.
5. Indy dreams might not be over: Patrick said this year that her dream of running at least one more Indianapolis 500 might have been extinguished. Indy cars become less familiar technically each season than the ones she drove in her final open-wheel season in 2011, and the job of becoming a competent and competitive NASCAR driver is ongoing. But still, watching Busch finish sixth in not only his first Indianapolis 500 but also his first IndyCar race must have seeded some wild thoughts in her head.