Danica Patrick claimed the best-ever finish for a female driver in a NASCAR national series event with fourth in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The IndyCar star had a breakthrough race in NASCAR's second-tier series at the demanding mile-and-a-half oval where she made continuous progress through the 200 laps, recovering from a disappointing qualifying.
Starting from 22nd, Patrick moved up all the way to 12th in the order right before the first round of pit stops and she was able to remain inside the top 15 until balance issues caused her to lose ground, eventually dropping a lap down entering the second half of the race. However, when the sixth caution of the race waved, the JR Motorsports racer was in position to get the wave around free-pass, by being the first car a lap down to the leader. That turned out to be the final caution of the day, which she was able to make the most out of as her team topped her car up with fuel and bolted a fresh set of tires.
With a better balance on her No. 7 Chevrolet, Patrick gradually moved up the order, enjoying an interesting battle with Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, from which she was eventually able to come out on top before breaking into the top 10.
As fuel calculations started to come into play, Patrick found herself on the right strategy and while others ahead of her had to pit for a splash of fuel, she managed to stretch her mileage well enough to safely make it to the end in fourth place.
"What a good day," said a joyful Patrick following her best career finish in NASCAR. "We had an up and down weekend all around. We were running well, then we were struggling, qualifying I didn't do a good enough job for us but we had a good racecar.
"I was pleased we finally got that 'lucky dog' [wave around under caution] and got back on the lead lap and we were sailing from there. I had to fight the car a little here and there and it was definitely loose in the middle part of the race. It was loose at the end, too, but [crew chief] Tony [Eury Jr] did a good job at tightening the thing up for the last run.
"I was a little tight to start but was a little loose to end so I guess that's just what goes on here. It's opposite from what I've learned...
"We were able to get a top-five – I was hoping for a top-10 secretly, I didn't want to say that to the media because then you would expect me to finish in the top 10. But I'm really happy, for [my team] it was a good weekend, so a good day all around."
Patrick thoroughly enjoyed being competitive and making plenty of passes while racing her way up through the field, going on to beat her own goal for what was only her 16th Nationwide Series outing, her third of the year and the second at Las Vegas.
"There were a lot of easy passes, a lot of traffic and then there were tough passes," Patrick said. "Took a couple of tries and took a few laps. Boy, it's tough when they lay on your right side! I'm already loose and then they're on that side and then I'm even more loose, trying not to spin, trying not to do anything to put me down.
"It was tough racing, it was good racing, and I like that, that's what I come for. I'm happy, I'm proud of everyone who worked really hard. Good day!"
Patrick was coached during the weekend by former NASCAR Truck Series champion Johnny Benson and she also took some tuition from Hendrick Motorsport's leading crew chief Chad Knaus, with whom she spent time during Sprint Cup Series practice.
Nationwide Series champion Brad Keselowski blew a left front tire after running over debris on the final lap while leading the race and handed a self record-breaking 49th career win in the series to veteran Mark Martin.
Patrick finished behind Justin Allgaier, and the battered car of Keselowski as the second of those drivers scoring points for the championship. She continues to rank fourth in the standings, and will be back for her fourth NASCAR outing of the season in two weeks at Bristol, following official IndyCar Series testing at Barber Motorsports Park earlier that week.