Danica rides fortune to 8th-place finish
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick was in the mood for another whirl of the roulette wheel. There was plenty to lose, certainly, but she admittedly had been fortunate so far. Her race car had been plenty good enough, so hoping the rain clouds engulfing Daytona International Speedway would relent and undertaking the final 48 laps of the Coke Zero 400 on Sunday didn't seem like too much of a gamble.
She didn't get a chance to chase her best finish in Sprint Cup, but she got to leave encouraged by tying the second-best finish of her Sprint Cup career with an eighth-place result. Aric Almirola won the rain-shortened race, putting Richard Petty's No. 43 car in Victory Lane for the first time since 1999.
"There's normally lots to lose on a speedway if you're in the top 10 and you go back green again," she said. "But not really today. We could crash out. That's obviously a chance. It's also the upside of not having too far to go to get to the front."
Patrick overcame a midrace pit road gaffe and early- and late-race multicar wrecks, the last of which allowed her to advance 15 spots through mangled race cars before the race postponed from Saturday night was finally deemed official.
"We missed more wrecks today than I've ever seen at Daytona and not be torn up," crew chief Tony Gibson said. "I'm pretty happy with P8 right there. Obviously, I would like to see what would have happened at the end with us and our teammate [Kurt Busch, who finished third], but I'm happy with that. Not being torn up that bad and top-10 finish? I'm good."
Patrick, who produced a career Cup-best finish of seventh earlier this season at Kansas Speedway, climbed one spot to 27th in driver points.
Patrick was 22nd on Lap 99 of a scheduled 160 when a 26-car melee that sent Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota onto its roof erupted in front of her. Patrick's position deep in the field allowed both her No. 10 Chevrolet and Brad Keselowski to slow and slink two abreast through the wreckage. She fell to 10th pitting with the field to replace a left front tire punctured by flotsam and then again to top off her fuel but raced her way to eighth before rain prompted the third and final red-flag period on Lap 112.
"It's feast or famine when it gets to this deal right here," Gibson said. "I guarantee you if it had gone green, you would have seen another bog wreck. Most of the time you're in it."
Patrick had been in it twice Sunday, but unlike the Daytona 500 this year or the Coke Zero 400 last July, she was able to escape and even benefit in the arbitrary and often confounding art of restrictor-plate racing.
She had started 29th and climbed to 20th when a 16-car wreck instigated by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. effectively ruined the race cars of numerous restrictor-plate standouts, including former Daytona 500 winners Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Patrick suffered minor damage to the left nose of her car tapping Kenseth's skidding race car and was 24th when racing resumed.
Patrick began knifing through the field during a subsequent green-flag run, advancing to fourth on Lap 65 as the field formed a long and civil drafting line attempting to reach the midpoint of the race and make the event official in case of inclement weather.
Looking competent and confident in the car in which she won the pole for and finished eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500, Patrick overcame what could have been a race-fouling mistake on Lap 85, overshooting her pit box on a green-flag stop and dropping from sixth to 30th. Patrick had been told to use the pitting race car of Greg Biffle one stall ahead as a visual cue to find her box, but she became confused when Biffle pitted later than her team had been told. She missed her mark, she said, misidentifying Kasey Kahne's similarly colored car for Biffle's.
We missed more wrecks today than I've ever seen at Daytona and not be torn up.Crew chief Tony Gibson
Lost in the draft, plummeting, seeking out drafting help from other cars, Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. benefited from a Lap 94 debris caution to rejoin the main pack.
"That was crucial right there," Gibson said of the caution. "If we hadn't got that caution, we were in trouble."
Patrick rejoined the leaders just three laps later by exploiting the final "big one," as typical multicar wrecks are known at restrictor-plate tracks. Patrick pitted twice under caution to add fuel as Gibson attempted an alternate strategy, but the last accident three laps after the restart solved her problem and simplified her route back to the lead.
"They were big for a lot of people and they were mini for me, so other than having to pit when the pits were closed and starting in the back, that was the worst of it all," Patrick said. "I think we have a lot to be real happy about."