Danica Patrick was running as high as 11th in the closing laps of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, but the driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) wound up finishing 19th after a time-consuming stop on her final trip to pit road.
Patrick started the race from the 22nd position and worked her way up to 18th before the car developed a tight-handling condition midway through the run. When the caution flag waved at lap 24, crew chief Daniel Knost called her to pit road for four tires and fuel, and the team also added tape to the car’s grille in an effort to help improve the car’s handling. Patrick restarted in the 17th position and raced her way up to 13th before the No. 10’s handling faded once again, causing her to fall back to 18th as the field started cycling through green-flag pit stops.
The team continued to adjust the car during each visit to pit road in an effort to improve handling, helping Patrick remain inside the top-25 and on the lead lap. After a green-flag pit stop on lap 137, Patrick radioed to the team that the car felt like it was “firing off better than it (had) the last couple of runs.” She continued to gain momentum over the course of the next two runs and raced her way up to 11th at lap 193. When the caution flag waved at lap 198, Patrick was scored 15th. That caution pushed the race past the scheduled 200-lap distance and set the field up for a green-white-checkered finish.
Knost called Patrick to pit road for right-side tires and a piece of tape on the grille, but the team had issues replacing the right-front tire and lost multiple positions on the stop. Once he saw what was happening, Knost made the call to go ahead and change all four tires in an effort to give Patrick the best tires possible since she would be restarting deep in the field.
Patrick lined up 22nd for the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish and was running 19th as the caution flag waved again before the field had taken the white flag. Patrick took the green flag in the 19th position for the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. She was 22nd with one lap to go and raced her way back to19th on the final lap. The effort marked her second top-20 finish of the season.“Of all the times to have a mistake, that wasn’t ideal,” Patrick said. “But there are times when I make mistakes as well, and the guys really worked hard all day to help get the Aspen Dental Chevrolet running up front. It’s frustrating to end up finishing behind guys I ran ahead of all day, but we definitely made gains toward the end of the race, and it was good to get up there and run solidly in the top-15.”