Seemingly coming from nowhere, Danica Patrick of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) finished in sixth place at the Oral-B USA 500 leg of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over the Labor Day Weekend. The race was held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and Patrick now holds the record for a woman at the track, since Janet Guthrie had finished 10th on it in 1978.
The race has been Patrick’s best finish for the season as well as a career-best, toppling her seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway earlier this year. This finish also comes after six consecutive races for Patrick where she couldn’t break into the top 15, making her an unexpected force to be reckoned with on the track.
Patrick started the race in 27th place out of 43, but methodically made her way closer to the front, fighting her way back up twice from a lap down. She credited her progress to key adjustments that SHR crew chief Tony Gibson made that improved her car’s performance and made her more comfortable in the driver’s seat. “The car was really good. I had one lap where I felt like I was playing a video game out there. I was just driving around the top side of everybody. It was a little more human-like after that. Gibson and everybody did a good job,” she said.
What gave her the final edge was a great last pit stop that set her up on the preferred line at the track for restarts, seventh on the inside. “Obviously the pit stop at the end that was 11 seconds was so good. There were a couple of rough ones in the beginning but that one made up for it because it put us seventh on that restart, and we had a good line on the inside and didn’t get caught up on the outside,” said Patrick.
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Although she wasn’t able to hold her lead in the last two laps, Patrick is still high on the result of the race, as she’d only been hoping to get into the top 15. “I am just so happy for the team,” she said.
Despite it not being her favorite track, she is reportedly ready and looking forward to racing in the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway on September 6.