After getting caught up in a late-race incident Sunday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) are ready to return to the site of Patrick’s career-best Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points-event finish: Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Patrick earned finishes of fourth and sixth in the Advance Auto Parts Clash and Can-Am Duel, respectively, and she was scored as high as second Sunday before her solid performance in the 59th running of the Daytona 500 ended prematurely due to a multicar accident that sent the No. 10 team to the garage at lap 128. With the conclusion of Daytona Speedweeks, the “regular” NASCAR Cup Series season commences with Sunday’s Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta.
When Patrick and her No. 10 team visited Atlanta in August 2014, she started 27th in the Oral-B USA 500. She rallied from a lap down twice in the early stages of the race. By the halfway point, Patrick worked her way into the top-15 and would stay there for the rest of the night. Her lap times continued to improve and, by the 300-lap mark, she was solidly in the top-10. Patrick managed to run as high as fourth before taking the checkered flag sixth. The effort beat her previous best finish – a seventh-place run at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City in May 2014 – by one position.
Patrick’s sixth-place run was the best by a female at Atlanta. The previous record was Janet Guthrie’s 10th-place finish on March 19, 1978. Only a fifth-place result by Sara Christian in a NASCAR Cup Series race on Oct. 2, 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway tops Patrick’s 2014 effort at Atlanta. Christian also finished sixth at Langhorn (Pa.) Speedway on Sept. 11, 1949, and Guthrie finished sixth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Aug. 28, 1977.
Last year, newly paired with crew chief Billy Scott, Patrick scored a 20th-place finish at Atlanta. This weekend, the pair returns to the track with a year’s worth of experience working together.
As the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team returns to Atlanta, it is ready to improve on last year’s results and hopefully make more history with Patrick.
DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You recorded one of your best finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta. Talk about heading to Atlanta this weekend.
“I like Atlanta. It’s a place that I’ve done pretty well at. I’ve actually done pretty well at tracks that are a little odd or challenging or different. I think grip is a premium at Atlanta, obviously, as the tires fall off there maybe more than anywhere else we go. I feel like our car will be good and hopefully it will be another fun Atlanta weekend.”
How important is it to run well at Atlanta and the other intermediate tracks early in the season?
“Well, you have to do well to have momentum. There’s no promise there. It might not go well at all but, on the other hand, it might be awesome. I think that’s the case for every team – you really don’t know how you’re going to do until you really get out there and actually get running. Despite getting wrecked last weekend, the Aspen Dental Ford team got off to a strong start in Daytona as a whole. Atlanta is a very tough track, but I’ve had success there before and I’m confident my team is ready for this weekend.”
Coming out of Daytona we hit a stretch of the season that includes Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana. How important is that slate of races?
“The first five races of the year are super-critical for the points championship but, in particular, they’re a good indicator of how the rest of the year is going to go from a performance standpoint. With those tracks, you’re covering all the bases with a short track, being Phoenix, a mile-and-a-half with Atlanta, a mile-and-a-half with Vegas – with Vegas being high-grip and Atlanta being low-grip – and then you go to Fontana, which is a 2-mile, flat, wide oval, so you’ve got a lot of different challenges. If we can perform well as a team at all of those tracks and have the mechanical handling that we need, and good understanding as to what we need there to balance out the aerodynamics which, hopefully, aero-wise, we’re in good shape, then we’ll have a great start to the year.”