Danica finding her way in qualifying
March 29, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Danica Patrick pulled a rabbit out of the hat at Martinsville Speedway on Friday, qualifying 10th for Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
It will mark the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s best start on a non-restricted track in 52 career attempts, an improvement of 11 positions from 21st-place starting spots at New Hampshire and Atlanta in 2013.
Her overall career-best effort came in 2013 when she captured the Coors Light Pole Award for the season-opening Daytona 500.
That she was 29th in Friday’s lone practice at Martinsville made the result that much more unexpected.
"I don’t think we started off very well, but we made good improvements and when the car went into qualifying trim, it was much better than it felt in race trim," Patrick, 32, said.
"Then Tony (Gibson, crew chief) made good changes from practice to qualifying because I was able to do what I wanted to do and what I asked to be able to do better. That is why we went faster."
It sounded simple enough, but on the small, flat track that features transitions from asphalt to concrete at the ends of both the frontstretch and backstretch, it’s rarely that easy.
Patrick and teammate Tony Stewart were the only two of the four SHR entries to advance from the opening segment into the final round. Teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch will start 18th and 22nd, respectively. Stewart, a three-time Cup champ, will line up seventh.
"Significantly better" than previous qualifying attempts this year, she said of her lap, after officially clocking in at 98.165 mph. It marked the first time Patrick advanced to the final round of qualifying since the new format was unveiled this season.
Dialing in the car and "then just nailing that lap, I mean that is qualifying," she said. "I just have to get better at it.
"I’ve got to get better at getting all of it out of the car every time and I have such a negative attitude about qualifying that I said I need to be positive and at least be neutral on it and let these be positive reinforcements. It’s so important and especially at a place like this."
Sunday’s race will be only the third start for Patrick at Martinsville, but both previous efforts resulted in top-20 finishes – she was 17th in the fall a year ago and 12th in the spring.
She’s also coming off her first back-to-back top-20 finishes, having run 18th at Bristol Motor Speedway and 14th last week at Auto Club Speedway.
Sunday’s race, the sixth of 36, is scheduled to get underway at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.