It was just three weeks ago that Danica Patrick surprised many NASCAR observers with her impressive 12th-place finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will look to improve even further on her short-track results in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 Sprint Cup race at the .75-mile Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
Like Martinsville, Richmond has been part of NASCAR since the early days of the sport. Lee Petty, father of seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty, won the first Sprint Cup race at Richmond on April 19, 1953 – little more than 60 years ago. Martinsville conducted its first race in 1949.
Patrick is no stranger to racing at Richmond, having competed in three NASCAR Nationwide Series races and five IZOD IndyCar Series races at the three-quarter-mile oval. She scored four top-10 IndyCar finishes, including sixth-place results in 2007 and 2008 and a fifth-place effort in 2009.
She has taken a liking to short-track racing and improved steadily through the last few months. In the August 2012 Sprint Cup race at the .533-mile Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway oval, Patrick was in the top-20 and on the lead lap with 66 laps remaining when her car was hit by another car and contacted the SAFER Barrier on the inside retaining wall of the frontstretch. She finished 29th.
In the November Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, Patrick finished what was then a career-best 17th on the mile oval after running as high as 14th with less than five laps to go. She improved even more with the 12th-place finish April 7 at Martinsville.
One focus for Patrick and the Go Daddy team will be to improve their qualifying efforts. In addition to the obvious better starting spot, the better qualifying effort results in a better pit stall and better track position to start the race – both extremely critical at a short track like Richmond.
Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Patrick qualified 25th, her best effort since her pole at this year’s season-opening Daytona 500.