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Danica nabs long-awaited strong finish

June 18, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com

Danica nabs long-awaited strong finish
A 13th-place showing is just fine for Patrick, crew chief Tony Gibson

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Matt Kenseth’s sixth-place finish? Probably not one he’ll tell his grandkids about.

Carl Edwards in eighth? The word ‘angry’ would be an understatement when it came to the displeasure surrounding his result.

But a 13th-place finish in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway for Danica Patrick was enough for her and crew chief Tony Gibson to go home happy, knowing they made some progress toward getting the ball rolling.

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The finish was Patrick’s best since the sixth race of the season at Martinsville, where she finished 12th. It’s the first time she’s finished inside the top 20 since then and just the third time all year, the other coming in the Daytona 500.

“We’ll take a 13th. Thank God we got something better than 29th,” Patrick said. “It’s nice to just get a decent finish for the team. It’s been rough going since Martinsville, so this will hopefully get everyone’s head up a little bit and we’ll go on. We’ve been strong lately, we just need to have days like today where we finish strong.”

Sunday’s race was a funky one that saw three Hendrick Motorsports cars (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon) finish 37-39, one of the other fastest cars (Kurt Busch) finish 35th, and neither Jimmie Johnson nor Denny Hamlin finish inside the top 20.

So if there was ever a race for Patrick and Co. to sneak to a solid finish, this was it. But don’t let that deter from the improvements Gibson made to the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet since opening practices that saw Patrick’s speeds rank in the upper 30s.

“By the end of the race, we had gotten the car to a good spot and I felt pretty good,” Patrick said. “At the end of the day, it’s very simple. By making the car more comfortable to drive, you can put it in more positions and carry more speed through the corner.”

“I don’t think you ever get comfortable in these things … you’re only going to get it so good,” Gibson added. “It was a good day for us, she stayed in there and she drove her ass off.”

As Patrick’s 2013 Sprint Cup Series rookie season -- a season that has seen more downs than ups  --soldiers on, the lessons she learns each week continue to be implemented as she picks up on certain “tricks of the trade” other drivers are using to beat her.

“(These cars) don’t drive very good in traffic because you can take the air off of people really early and she’s still learning that,” said Gibson. “She’s still learning when guys get on your left rear it dumps all the air off the blade back there, the shark fin, and she’s learning that. As she learns to do that to other people, she’ll get better and better about how to position herself in traffic and getting herself separated from those guys.”

And at this point of the season, with Patrick’s 27th-place spot in the standings making a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth look like a long shot at best, that’s what she has to be striving for -- the lessons.

Now, with close to half of the season in the books, it’s time for this branch of Stewart-Haas Racing to take what they’ve learned thus far, apply it to the remaining races to figure out what they can do best and look forward to being competitive on a regular basis in the future.

“It’s a good weekend to build on, going into Sonoma,” said Gibson. “So we’ll take this and hopefully we can build on it and go there and have another top-15, top-20 run. That’s what we’re here for.”

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