Danica Patrick continued her steep learning curve in NASCAR taking a top 10 finish in the Pro Series East race and 35th in the Nationwide Series event at Dover this weekend.
The IndyCar racer competed on Friday afternoon in the Pro race, starting 13th, leading the race for a few laps and finishing sixth after contact when she restarted from the front of the field dropped her down the order. Patrick took the 155-lap race as a warm up for Saturday's Nationwide event, as both series use similar cars, although the Pro is a level down the NASCAR ranks.
She was happy following her first race of the weekend, although conditions inside the car were not ideal as she ran without the proper ventilation that she's used to in her Nationwide car.
"I know I learned a lot for [the Nationwide] race and that was the point," Patrick said after Friday's event. "I learned a lot, especially about restarts. I learned about closing rates.
"I learned how to set people up here and I learned about the timing of everything. I didn't have a back blower and the helmet blower seemed to be blowing hot air. I was pretty star-star-star hot."
In the Nationwide event Patrick didn't fare as well, struggling with a poor qualifying despite running well in practice. From 42nd on the grid she was unable to make much progress while fighting handling issues, dropping a lap down on the leaders as soon as lap 17.
On lap 70 of 200, and while running two laps down already, the right front tyre on her Chevrolet gave up and Patrick hit the wall hard, forcing her to drive to the garage for lengthy repairs. Though she came back on track nearly 100 laps later to finish 35th in her seventh Nationwide race.
Patrick admitted that she still has to learn more lessons on how to set up her car for a race before being able to move up to the next level. She says the fact that her apprenticeship is taking place in the public eye doesn't make things any easier.
"I don't know what I need out of the car to be good in the race," said Patrick. "I know what I need for one lap to feel good, but that doesn't mean it's going to be good for 70 or 80 laps. So, even on that last run out there which was 30 or so laps, we freed [the car] up and went out there and started feeling a little loose, and it kind of settled in and I was pushing by the end.
"How loose does it have to be when you start to have a good end? I don't know if that contributed to the right front blowing out in the first run or not, but it got to the point that there was so much push, it was shattering. I know now from experience that when you have a vibration and when the car doesn't want to turn it's probably losing pressure and you should back it on down.
"Lessons learned, and they're not fun lessons because everybody is watching so it makes it even harder but we'll get this car to the front by the end of the year. We'll figure it out."
Even before her weekend started, Patrick had already admitted how humbling her NASCAR transition has been as she has had to learn to cope with below-par results while she figures out the nuances of stock car racing.
"Mostly it's just been emotional because I've had to deal with not having as good results as I would have liked," said Patrick. "IndyCar has been a bit of a tough season. I've had probably some of my best races I've ever had, but I've also had some mediocre ones.
"NASCAR has been a humbling experience itself. For me, it's been more emotional than anything. I enjoy being busy, I like it. I'm lucky to be busy. Not every driver gets to be busy, and it's all for good reason. It's part of what I signed up for and I'm enjoying it."
Patrick will return to the Nationwide Series next month at Fontana, which will be the first venue she has competed at for a second time this year.