After her superb performance at the Daytona 500, where she started from pole and finished eighth, Danica Patrick’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in Phoenix, where she struggled to keep pace with the leaders and ran in the second half of the field until a burst tyre on lap 185 put her into the wall and out of the race.
Daytona was an emphatic indication that Danica can race against the best in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, and everything seemed to go right for her in the series’ most famous race. But clearly there is still work to do after disappointment in Phoenix. The burst tyre is unfortunate, and there is probably not much that the team could have done about it. What will concern them more is Danica’s lack of front-running throughout the event.
In each of the three practice sessions, Patrick was over half a second off the fastest time set and never featured higher than 30th out of 43 entrants. For qualifying, she was 40th and a full second off the pole time, which is an enormous gap considering that the fastest time set was 26.073 seconds. In average speed terms, Patrick was 6mph slower in qualifying than pole-sitter Mark Martin. Given her strong performance at Daytona, the gap to the front must surely be setup related, rather than driver related. With just a week until the next race, the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there is not much time to work out what went wrong, but Patrick and her crew chief Tony Gibson willl doubtless spend the next few days finding ways to recover their Daytona form.
In the race, Danica managed to stay on the lead lap, assisted by caution periods when other drivers crashed out, and she ran as high as 21st at one point. But ultimately her right-front tyre let her down, failing on the exit of turn four and sending her into the outside wall, before rebounding into the path of David Ragan who could not avoid a collision. The race was over immediately for Patrick, but Ragan managed two more laps before retiring.
Danica Patrick took just five points away from Phoenix, which drops her from seventh in the points table to 22nd. It’s still very early in the season, and points therefore do not mean much just yet, but she will nonetheless want to score well at the next race in Las Vegas to reduce her 48 point deficit to current leader Jimmie Johnson.