Danica Patrick claimed her best NASCAR Nationwide Series finish of the year on Saturday night in the final race of the season at Homestead.
The IZOD IndyCar Series regular led her first laps and managed to finish on the lead lap in what turned out to be an incident-filled event. She finished 19th – her first top-20 result – in her 13th outing in NASCAR's second-tier series.
At the same track where she finished the IndyCar series in style with a second place nearly a month ago, Patrick claimed her best qualifying result of the season earlier in the day.
Although once the green flag waved she struggled with balance and started dropping down the order. By the time the first caution waved on lap 12 of 200, she was already down in 14th place, and then pitting for new tires and adjustments, so dropped further down.
However, when the second caution was displayed only a few laps later and many drivers elected to pit, Patrick stayed on the track and grabbed the lead for the first time. It didn't last long though, as she had a poor restart in which she dropped all the way to 16th place when she crossed the line again, following contact with a rival while trying to get settled.
"Oh god, I looked like a rookie, didn't I?" said Patrick about her restart. "I got into [Turns] 1 and 2 and got a little loose in the middle. I was then on the back straight and I was finally starting to settle in at least from the pace with everyone, I get hit on the left rear and I'm veering toward the inside wall. That put me back a little farther. That was a little messy but it was good to lead some laps I guess."
After that, Patrick raced in the midfield, picking up a few places in the final laps after dropping outside of the top 20. In the end, she was just edged by rookie Brian Scott to 18th place, claiming her best result of the year as one of 27 drivers to finish on the lead lap.
She believes she can take a lot of positives from her final race of the season as she gets ready to continue with her NASCAR apprenticeship in 2011.
"There's a lot of positives to take from the weekend," said Patrick. "The qualifying, staying on the lead lap – if I can even say it with a straight face – having my best result of the year, so there's a lot of good stuff and that's what I have to think about for next year and I need to try and improve on that."
Patrick is expected to take part in at least the same number of NASCAR events in 2011 as she did this season, alternating with her IndyCar duties.
Kyle Busch won the Nationwide finale, clinching the owners' title for Joe Gibbs Racing and taking his 13th series win of the year, also his 24th NASCAR victory of 2010. Brad Keselowski was officially crowned champion, having clinched the drivers' title two weeks ago at Texas, giving Roger Penske his maiden NASCAR championship.