Last weekend at Phoenix Raceway, Danica Patrick took another step in learning the ropes of NASCAR.
Overall, she had yet another tough day as she finished 32nd after hitting the wall late in the going.
For the most of the race, she felt she was getting no respect out on the race track as she came on the radio at one point and asked, “Do I have a target on me?”
During one of the long-green flag runs, both Tony Raines and Alex Kennedy made contact with Patrick, causing a significant tire rub. Patrick got back to Kennedy, giving him a shot. Crew Cheif Tony Eury Jr. felt that she took the right step in retaliating.
“That’s what she’s got to do,” crew chief Tony Eury Jr. told SceneDaily afterwards. “It’s a give-and-take out there and the only way she’s going to get respect from other guys is [for them] to know she’s going to retaliate and she’s not going to take it.
“She did the right thing. She got her point across. She’ll have to do more of it.”
The caution then came out for debris allowing Patrick to come down pit road to fix the damage.
However, during the next one, contact with Michael Annett while racing for 21st resulted in her hitting the wall.
Before the contact with other drivers, Patrick ran between 22nd and 27th much of the day.
“I was pretty happy with the way the day was going,” Eury Jr. said. “We were sitting there running 23rd, 22nd – that was the best we’ve been on a short track all year. We made some gains there. We’ve got a long way to go.
“She’s just learning the ropes of short-track racing, people leaning on each other, being aggressive on the race track, on restarts. That’s stuff she’s not used to. She’ll eventually get it.”
This year can be summed up as a struggle for Danica Patrick, however looking over it overall, she has gotten better each week. Her lap times have shown improvement, she's been performing better in-race and the race at Phoenix showed that she's learned the ropes of standing up.
"Every race this early on [in her NASCAR career] makes a big difference," Patrick told NASCAR.com. "[Crew chief] Tony [Eury] Jr. and I are getting to know each other better and what I need in the car."
All of this may look like nothing to most due to the failure to finish in the top 15 yet, however these are steps that she has to take to get there.
Considering where she started at the beginning of the year without any stock car experience, she has done well.
With taking those steps and looking at how far she has come, it is easy to see that next year she'll be able to do better.
In a recent article at NASCAR.com, Patrick backed that up in saying that next year she's going to push it harder.
"[I'll] take more risks with the car, in qualifying and things like that and just getting up to speed," Patrick said. "I've got everybody in the engineering room looking at me with a really concerned face when I say that. That just comes with comfort, pushing it a little bit more. I don't like to crash, but I think maybe just taking a few more chances, stretching my comfort zone ..."
This year has also equaled the longest season of her career, with running both the IndyCar and NASCAR schedules. Some people critized her for that, stating it was too much to handle. However, she has handled it quite well.
"I'm in a really good balance with my personal and professional life," she told NASCAR.com. "This has definitely been a shift in my schedule, but it helps you appreciate the days off much, much more.