Patrick zooms to another qualifying first
May 22, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Danica Patrick used to hate qualifying.
"This is the part of the weekend where in the old days I would have said I hated," she said. "Literally, I've used those words a million times. I hate qualifying. But really had to tell myself over time to stop saying that, because nothing good's going to happen if you keep thinking bad things."
Maybe the change of mindset has had an effect. Patrick led the second session of group qualifying Thursday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and ended up with a fourth-place starting position for the Coca-Cola 600 -- which proved to be the best ever by a female driver on an unrestricted track in NASCAR's premier series.
The previous mark had been shared by Patrick and Janet Guthrie, the latter of whom started ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977, before the era of restrictor plates. Patrick qualified ninth in the most recent Sprint Cup Series event two weeks ago at Kansas. The starting spot was the second-best of Patrick's career following her historic pole in the 2013 Daytona 500, where she became the first woman ever to lead NASCAR's top series to the green flag.
Patrick was sixth-fastest in the first of Thursday's three rounds, and led the second with a speed of 194.595 mph. Her run in the five-minute final segment put her second behind Kasey Kahne, and she was ultimately bumped down to fourth by Brad Keselowski and Coors Light Pole Award winner Jimmie Johnson, the latter of whom vaulted to the top of the scoring pylon with a lap of 194.911 mph.
"It just feels so good to have good qualifying. I have to say, though, I'm a little disappointed. Being P1 in the second group, I'm a little disappointed I'm not on the pole. Not sure I could have done a (lap of 27.705 seconds) anyway. I was really tight through 3 and 4 on my lap. I guess I'm a little more surprised that I'm fourth," Patrick said.
"I really thought we -- well, we did have a shot at the pole. Wish we could have done that. It would have put me in the (Sprint Unlimited) at the beginning of (next) year, right? That's always what you want to do is get to those special races. Great day, great starting spot for the Coke 600. A big departure from last year when we had to do an engine change and start at the back. Let's hope we can do more of what we did at Kansas."
Kansas was where Patrick turned in a career-best seventh-place finish, bettering even her eighth-place run in the 2013 Daytona 500. And Thursday's qualifying session continued a solid stretch on pole days for Patrick, who notched her third consecutive top-10 starting position, and fourth of the year. She started 10th at Martinsville, seventh at Talladega, and ninth at Kansas.
Patrick's qualifying run also came six days after she was unable to make the Sprint All-Star Race -- she finished 10th in the Sprint Showdown qualifying race, and then watched the fan vote go surprisingly to Josh Wise.
"Anytime you can have track time at a track you're going to race at, it's good for learning, it's good for repetition, it's good for learning about your car," she said. "So we would have loved to have been in the All-Star weekend, but it wasn’t meant to be. But we're doing OK here, and we've got another practice before the race."
That comes Saturday, when Patrick said her No. 10 team will focus on longer runs and setup strategies for Sunday's event, the longest on NASCAR's premier circuit. She's never finished better than 20th at Charlotte -- but she had also never qualified in the top five on an unrestricted track until Thursday night.
"Everybody brings their best stuff for the Coke 600," she said, "so we've got a better car, and I'm sure Hendrick gave all their best engines, and we're ready to rock for Sunday."