Mechanical problems doom Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick spoke of remaining positive under the crush of adversity, especially when the demanding NASCAR schedule "keeps coming at you." She had allowed herself to deflate earlier in the season when a spate of problems tempered expectations, and she was hoping to remain buoyant after failing to finish in three of her last six races.
Maybe letting slip Friday that she has a modicum of French-Canadian ancestry would do the trick at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
It looked like a good plan for a while.
Patrick qualified fourth and led a career-high 20 laps Saturday but ultimately succumbed to more mechanical issues and a spin in an eventual 27th-place finish in the Nationwide Series race.
Patrick, who has proved a quick study in road course racing in her first full season in NASCAR's second-tier series, methodically picked through the field on the 2.7-mile course. She passed Sam Hornish Jr. for second on Lap 11 and assumed the lead on a Lap 23 restart as leader Jacques Villeneuve pitted under caution.
Driving the same car that was wrecked on the first lap at Watkins Glen last week, she was fast and audibly encouraged in conversations with her spotters and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. She joked under a later caution that she wished the pace car could drive faster to consume more laps and discussed the fuel strategies of JR Motorsports teammates Ron Fellows and Cole Whitt.
Patrick's race began to mirror her season soon after when the shoe finally dropped, literally. She ran over a shoe tossed onto the track on a Lap 38 restart, and though it apparently did not damage the car, it signaled the beginning of a sublime, deflating remainder of the race.
Patrick had observed a strange handling problem and shifting of weight in the car during warm-up laps and noticed a recurrence that worsened her steering after the restart. A small metal bracket fell from the bottom of the car through a corner and a dangling piece of metal from the undercarriage was diagnosed as a track bar.
Patrick ceded the lead to Villeneuve for the last time on Lap 41 of the scheduled 74-lap race. She had led just 17 laps this season (13 at Daytona in July) and 35 laps in 46 Nationwide races over parts of three seasons.
Patrick and Eury were able to nurse six more laps despite her woes, as she managed to maintain third place before beginning a three-stop sequence for fuel and repairs. Eury surmised the track bar had begun to fail after a hard bump in a corner during qualifying. He used three pit stops to assess and repair the damage relatively quickly and fill the No. 7 Chevrolet with enough fuel to complete the remaining laps, but Patrick resumed racing in 30th position after the final damage-control stop.
It wasn't her last visit. Just four laps after returning to the track -- during which time she passed five cars -- Patrick's car slowed to a jog with a broken left rear axle, sending her to the garage for lengthy repairs.
After a few expletives condemning the continued spate of ill fortune, Patrick seemed to find some positives during a radio chat with Eury as she sat in the car during repairs.
Everything [that] happened, we were gonna overcome that," he said.
"You made a good situation out of something bad there," she replied.
"Keep your head up," he responded. "We'll have to turn it around somehow."
Patrick returned five laps down, in 30th position, but in good humor, quipping over team radio she was out to pass as many cars as possible like grassroots short track racing, and that "maybe we could even get up to a certain car," a reference to Villeneuve. The former Formula One and CART champion and Nationwide road course moonlighter had bumped Patrick off the track and out of fourth place on the last lap at Road America in June.
Patrick worked her way past several slower cars before being spun by Kyle Kelley in a corner on Lap 64 and riding out the remainder of the race.