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Patrick proves a point with Montreal perseverance

August 20, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

Danica Patrick drives the No. 7 through the turns at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on her way to a 24-place finish.

MONTREAL -- Danica Patrick's day in NASCAR is coming, no doubt sooner than later if media reports can be believed, and Saturday in the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, she made the latest statement of why she may be a driver to be reckoned with in the sport's No. 2 series.

Race-winner Marcos Ambrose sucked most of the drama out of Saturday's fifth annual Nationwide Series race at Montreal, but Patrick inched closer to the impending announcement of her full-time move to NASCAR by spending a good bit of time in the top 10 and threatening to finish there before a mechanical failure knocked her back to 24th, the last car on the lead lap.

NAPA Auto Parts 200

Results
Pos.DriverMake
2.Alex TaglianiDodge
3.Michael McDowellToyota
4.Steve WallaceToyota
5.J.R. FitzpatrickFord

Patrick, who had only previously raced lightweight open-wheel cars at the tight, 2.7-mile course located in Parc Jean Drapeau on Ile Notre Dame -- and that, seven years ago -- had overcome brake issues and her own severe overheating in the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

And Patrick, who on Saturday morphed from strolling unnoticed through the middle of the Nationwide garage dressed in street clothes mid-morning to having two young-20s fans shrilling "it's her" from 150 yards away on pit road after the race, manufactured plenty of her own drama in the process.

In a typically strange road course pit-strategy manner, Patrick fell back into the 20s, raced up into the top-10 just past halfway, then fell as far back as 27th before racing back to 14th on the final restart with just four laps to go.

Patrick continued to dodge any direct implication of what her next step might be -- though by seeking stock car drivers' respect, it could be inferred she'll be one next season.

"I think the challenge is earning the respect of my peers around me -- that's the most important thing," said Patrick, who early in the race got together with Michael Annett and spun him out in the first backstretch chicane. "I think that's the step that will pay off in the long run."

Patrick patiently waited in the rain after the race for a TV interview on ESPN.

* Well-traveled Ambrose finally takes the checkers at Montreal

"Yeah, it was about charging hard and being with good guys and [Jacques] Villeneuve was up there and he was kinda one of my childhood hero-like guys," Patrick said of her early laps. "So it was a cool place to be and I learned a heckuva lot."

Patrick then stepped away and quickly debriefed with Tony Eury Jr. The bond that's formed between Patrick and the man who really is the only stock car crew chief she's ever known is obvious.

And she just laughed when she was asked if having just a lap-and-a-third to limp made it easier to bear or just increased the frustration.

"I think the challenge is earning the respect of my peers around me -- that's the most important thing. I think that's the step that will pay off in the long run."

--DANICA PATRICK

"Well, I kept it on the lead lap so it was a bummer not to be able to say that I started 25th and got up to eighth and then went to the very back and then got back up to whatever I would have-finished. But that's OK. I learned a lot, running hard with some really, really good drivers."

Eury returned the favor.

"She done great [because] she's understanding more," Eury said. "She got excited when we lost the brakes, but she didn't know what was happening and how long it would take to get 'em back; so now you put that underneath your belt and you say 'with these cars when this happens, this is what you do -- this is what I need to do to take care of my brakes, because this is what's gonna happen.'

"We're still not sure what happened -- we're just assuming she over-heated 'em because there's plenty of [brake] pad left and stuff. So we'll go back and look at 'em."

Patrick said her team bled air out of the brakes lines three different times. She never got too rattled and Eury said that was the most encouraging aspect, to him.

"For her to have those problems, step back and come back forward -- I mean, we were running 13th and she wheel-hopped it down there and Ron [Fellows, her teammate] got in the right rear [wheel] and it looked like it broke an axle, with two [laps] to go.

"So basically, it turned our whole day after we'd gone all the way back [to the end of the lead lap cars] and come back."

There wasn't much frustration evident in Eury's demeanor, no matter what it looked like Patrick's result was going to be. Patrick limped from 15th coming out of the hairpin and started falling like a stone through the field on the final straightaway.

Patrick quickly pitted and took the white flag on pit road, in 24th. She stumbled around the race track for the final lap and finally reached the finish line as Ambrose was well into his tire-smoking victory celebration.

"That's just the way it happens," Eury said. "We were really happy about the way out day went -- as far as up, down, up, down and we came back. Yeah, it was frustrating we were maybe gonna have a top-10 with her -- that's what I told you at the beginning of the day was where I wanted to finish.

"That's what my goal was, and we were doing that. We didn't get the finish, but we were where we wanted to be."

Patrick's next step, which as reported may come as early as next week, has a lot of people anxiously awaiting. But Eury -- not being prone to anxiety -- isn't one of them.

"I've told [JR Motorsports general manager and co-owner] Kelley [Earnhardt] I don't want to know nothing about it," Eury said. "I told her to just let me know the day before they announce something."

Patrick showed less patience than Eury.

"I've got to figure out what the brake situation is," Patrick said. "I thought I was taking care of them, but I've got to learn something there. I've got to learn about passing and restarts and how much easier it is to go two-wide in the corners with these cars.

"But most of all I just got to run with some good drivers. The brakes were fine at the end -- pretty much back to normal. But the heat was pretty bad. I was pretty hot; there was no doubt about it."

At one point during the race, Patrick thought she might pass out, but she said -- and Eury agreed -- they would continue to seek a solution to the cooling issues.

"That's something we're going to have to look into -- how to cool off in this car," Patrick said. "Because I've felt that I'm always very hot in these cars. I work out a lot. I feel like I train properly and it feels like hot air is just blowing around in the car and the blowers don't work at all or they aren't effective.

"They've tried some stuff but we've got to go full court press on that. It's not just the road course, because I overheated at Daytona, too."

* Patrick, Dufault find trouble | Earnhardt: Patrick already successful | Full-time deal expected

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