Danica makes NASCAR history with fourth-place finish

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

It’s a very popular marketing slogan for the town known as “Sin City”: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It’s hoped that’s not so when it comes to former Roscoe resident and NASCAR record-breaking driver Danica Patrick. She finished fourth in the Sam’s Town 300 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and broke a 62-year-old record formerly held by Sara Christian.

Patrick recorded the best finish by a female driver ever in a NASCAR national series, topping the fifth-place result turned in by Christian at Heidelburg Raceway in Pittsburgh in 1949.

Patrick continues to show signs of improvement in the Nationwide Series. Her previous best finish was 14th at Daytona two weeks ago. “To be honest, I think we’re making some real progress,” said Patrick. “We make progress every weekend, but it’s just a matter of are you on the lead lap and in position to take advantage by the end of the race?”

Despite a less-than-impressive qualifying run and a spin-out during a pre-race practice session, she was able to hold her own during Saturday’s race. Patrick spent several laps racing side-by-side with Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. She eventually took advantage of some slower lapped traffic to maneuver her Go Daddy No. 7 Chevrolet around Bayne. “It’s nice to race with those guys,” Patrick said. “They teach me. They really teach me how I need to run. [Bayne] has been having lots of good experience with Sprint Cup and with Nationwide, and he’s been doing really well. He taught me how to prevent somebody from getting by too easily. He was right there tight on my right side, and I’m telling you, man, I was loose as all getup next to him. But that’s how you learn how to race.”

Mark Martin took the checkered flag Saturday for the 49th time in the Nationwide Series. He continues to hold the record for most wins in the series. Kyle Busch is second with 44 wins.

Patrick will make her next (and first-ever) start at the famed high-banked, half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday, March 19, a track that has proven challenging for even the most veteran NASCAR drivers.

She was able to keep things in perspective following her record-breaking finish. She obviously didn’t let things go to her head; instead, she summed up her expectations for her next race: “My goal at Bristol is to finish and not be more than 10 laps down.”

To have any kind of success at Bristol, she’ll need to make sure some of the luck she had in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.

From the March 9-15, 2011, issue

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