For Danica Patrick, her latest NASCAR Cup Series race was not about how you start but rather how you finish.
With 71 laps to go in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway, Regan Smith blew a right front tire during the middle of green-flag pit stops. Eight drivers had yet to pit at the time.
Among them was Patrick.
With roughly 10 cars taking the wave-around to get back on the lead lap, Patrick fell backward on the ensuing restart. However, she kept on digging, putting a top-20 ending within her grasp.
As it looked like Kyle Larson was going to cruise to victory, David Ragan brought out the final caution of the race with four laps to go, forcing the event into NASCAR Overtime. On that final restart, Ryan Newman got into Ty Dillon for fourth, turning him into the outside wall and triggering a 12-car pileup.
Though getting into the incident herself, receiving some damage to her right front fender, Patrick came home with a 10th-place finish. That’s one position behind her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick and a nice recovery after an earlier spin threatened to end her day on lap 147.
“We finally got lucky,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing with staying out at the right times and catching the yellows right. It’s just nice to be lucky. We were definitely not a 10th-place car.
“But you know what, there are a lot of times that we are a 10th-place car and you don’t get a finish at all. I will take the lucky days any time I can get them because there are plenty of them that go the other way.”
In a race that had 15 cautions for 72 laps, the No. 10 team, like most had to conserve tires to make it to the end.
“We put scuffs on two or three times,” she said. “It was an issue, but we saw that in every race this weekend. Lots of yellows.”
The effort is Patrick’s first top-10 finish since 2015 at Bristol, 77 races ago where she placed ninth. It’s been a miserable stretch since then with Patrick enduring multiple wrecks this season, a lawsuit with a primary sponsor (Nature’s Bakery) and ongoing questions about her future.
The Monster Mile gave her a brief respite on that, a big surprise considering her past history. Prior to Sunday’s race at Dover, Patrick only had a best-career finish of 13th at the Monster Mile. In 10 starts at the track, she has an average finish of 21.6 with three top-20 results.
That spin had the No. 10 car headed for a similar finish most of the day. Instead, after a few lucky breaks how can Patrick harness this momentum going forward?
“It’s such a common question when things go better, but I think the more positive we can be as a group, the more positive energy we’re going to perpetuate,” she said. “We’re going to wheel it better from here on out.”
In the first 12 races of the season, the No. 10 car had a best result of 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway. She moved up two positions in the championship standings with her finish at Dover and has now cracked the top 30.
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