Danica Patrick relieved with first top 10 in two seasons at Dover

(Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Danica Patrick was one of many that drove into bedlam during the final laps of Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism.

While many ended up among wreckage, Patrick’s No. 10 Ford emerged on the other side for a 10th-place result – her first top 10 in more than two years dating back to Bristol Motor Speedway in 2015 (77 races).

A lucky break? Sure.

But after the year she’s had, Patrick isn’t complaining.

In the midst of her fifth season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick, 35, had endured the worst start to a season of her brief Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career prior to her arrival at Dover International Speedway. In 12 races, the Roscoe, Illinois native had three more DNFs (five) than top-20 finishes (two). Her biggest story of the year had come before the start of the season, when when a sponsorship dispute led to Nature’s Bakery’s temporary removal from her driver’s suit and livery.

With a best finish of 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the top 10 looked akin to the summit of a great mountain – beautiful and tempting, but unlikely to ever be reached.

For a time, it appeared that Sunday would draw Patrick no closer to that summit. She tied her worst qualifying performance of the year in 31st, spun on Lap 147 to force a yellow and was trapped a lap down for much of the early part of the race.

Then suddenly, like the sight of water in the desert, a reprieve finally came.

Patrick inherited the free pass on a Lap 219 caution to rise back into contention. Later, a crash from Regan Smith during green-flag stops proved fortuitous for the No. 10 team, allowing Patrick to rise into the top 10 after staying out longer than most teams in the field.

The Illinoisan lost ground over the final 70 laps, but the race’s final caution gave her one last opportunity to move forward. Patrick advanced ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. when the No. 88 Chevrolet was caught speeding on pit road.

That move proved critical. When the field engaged in a multi-car melee on the backstretch during overtime, Patrick maneuvered her way through the wreckage ahead of Earnhardt to secure her first top 10 with Ford.

Afterwards, the 35-year-old reflected on her first positive result of the season with a sense of relief.

“A good day for us,” Patrick said. “We got a bit lucky with staying out at the right time and catching the yellow flags. It’s the stuff that hasn’t been happening for us all year and it’s just nice to catch some breaks today.

 

The run marked Patrick’s seventh-career top 10, and elevated her into the top 30 in the Cup series points standings for the first time since Richmond International Raceway in April.

As Patrick was quick to acknowledge, there’s still a lot of improvement to be made. But amid what’s easily been the most tumultuous of her eight years in NASCAR competition, the SHR shoe is content to celebrate a good day in Delaware.

“We weren’t the fastest car today, not sure we were a top-10 car,” Patrick said. “A lot of times we have been a 10th-place car and weren’t able to get the finish we needed. I’ll take the lucky days anytime I can because there has been plenty of times where it went the other way.”

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