Danica Patrick showed improvement on her fifth NASCAR Nationwide Series outing, finishing 24th with an incident-free run at Chicagoland Speedway.
The IndyCar star started the race from 28th, after getting an early draw and being the first car out to complete her qualifying run. On the first lap she made some progress moving up to 23rd, but then dropped a few spots to 26th by the time of her first pit stop, which was a lengthy one due to a missing lug nut on the right-front wheel.
Already a lap down, Patrick continued to learn the nuances of stock car racing, improving her lap times as the race went on. Although she fell two laps down, she got to within 0.3sec of the leaders' times. In the end, she crossed the finish line in 24th place – one ahead of veteran Morgan Shepherd, with whom she collided two weeks ago at New Hampshire. The result is the best out of her five outings in NASCAR's second-tier series thus far, in a race that proved far less eventful than her previous ones.
"I definitely learned a lot," said Patrick. "It was really nice to run a clean race with no accidents really, especially in the first part. It's so tough when you spin at the beginning of the race, but we didn't do that!
"So we just [ran] along and I learned a lot by following those guys and I learned about really simple things out there, just like how to roll into the throttle and out of it and just how valuable that breath just before you get to power is, so that you don't push up the track.
"We brought the car home and just got a couple of dings in it but all in all I took care of it at the very end there. I think that I was up on the back of that pack that could've ended pretty bad, but everybody was making me aware of where I am, so I laid back and we brought [the car] home."
Before the race Patrick had stated that she was trying not to be so hard on herself this time, having previously performed below her expectations. Some Sprint Cup Series drivers have suggested that she should focus solely on NASCAR if that is what she really wants to do in the future, in order to speed up her transition to stock cars. But when asked about that advice, she said she has yet to make up her mind about her long-term career.
"I think if you want be to be really good at anything you have to obviously centralize your focus," said Patrick. "But at this point in time I have a tremendous amount to learn, and even if it was full time, would it be going better? Maybe. But it wouldn't be some big, dramatic difference.
"It's really getting this base of knowledge now is the hardest part. We're going to do the schedule like this for this year and next year and then we'll sort of assess where we're at and what we think we want to do in the future. Maybe it will be more of both. Maybe it will be one. Maybe it will be the other. I'm really not sure. I've been fortunate enough in my career that what I wanted to do has been available for me. This year I wanted to run both and I wanted to check it out, see how it went and get my feet wet and play around. We'll just see where that goes."
Patrick won't be back in the Nationwide Series until next month when she races at Michigan, following three outings in the IZOD IndyCar Series in Toronto, Edmonton and at Mid-Ohio.