Danica Patrick Finishes Race; Kyle Busch Wins Nationwide in California
Danica Patrick accomplished one of her goals by finishing the race. She is still a long way from the lead packs in NASCAR.
Kyle Busch barely overtook Greg Biffle out of the final turn in a green-white-checker finish to win by 0.051 seconds in the NASCAR Nationwide race at California on Saturday, with Brad Keselowski right behind them.
It was a heartbreaking loss for polesitter Joey Logano, who led 130 laps and was up front when the final caution came out. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate finished fifth.
Patrick was 31st in her second Nationwide race, three laps off the pace and ahead of six other cars that were still running at the end.
But unlike Daytona, where she got caught up in a 12-car crash just past the halfway point, Patrick was racing at the finish on the slick two-mile superspeedway where she was originally scheduled to race for the first time. And she made progress during a trying 300-mile race, though she wasn’t involved in the exciting finish.
“I wanted to finish, and the expectation of staying on the first lap was probably not realistic and I knew that,” Patrick said. “It wasn’t so pretty to start, but I came here and did what I wanted today.”
On the final restart, created after Brendan Gaughan spun out on lap 145 to bring out a caution, Biffle quickly pushed by Logano and Busch followed him. Busch then got under Biffle on the final turn and beat him for his 31st Nationwide victory, tying him for third on the career list after only 175 starts.
“This is a neat race track, it’s pretty wide and spread out. … There at the end, it felt like the race track was really narrow,” Busch said. “It was exciting for us.
Logano was trying to win from the pole at California for the second time in a row. But Busch still gave Gibbs its fifth consecutive Nationwide victory in Southern California, with an average speed of 143.886 mph despite leading only four of the 152 laps.
“A little bittersweet for Joey,” team owner J.D. Gibbs said. “For us to come through that and for Kyle on that last lap to do what we had to do to win the race is a big deal for us.”
When the race restarted after an earlier caution for debris, Logano was in 11th place behind several cars who decided not to pit and 1.5 seconds behind Biffle, who had taken the lead. He needed only eight laps to go back, passing Biffle coming out of Turn 4 on lap 100 and staying there until the final restart.
“The 20 [Logano] just made a rookie mistake and spun his tires on the restart,” Biffle said. “Before, I just couldn’t keep up with him on the restarts. He was just driving away from me.”
But Biffle knew what was going to happen when Busch got a good run on him at the end.
“I figured he was going to beat me,” Biffle said.
Patrick started the day 36th and quickly dropped to the back of the field. She was passed by Logano only 17 laps into the race. Yet, it took another 43 laps before Logano lapped her again.
On her first two stops, Patrick was penalized for speeding on pit road. So was veteran driver Carl Edwards, who finished fourth.
“It’s always disappointing when something isn’t perfect, but it’s not what ruined our day,” Patrick said.
Patrick repeatedly said this week that the difficult part for her is not knowing for sure how things are supposed to feel in a stock car. It was clear the IndyCar Series star was trying to figure that out while gaining valuable experience in the race.
“I need to set goals at the beginning of the race and if I meet them then I need to be happy,” she said. “And as long as I’ve learned too, then what can I be mad about.”
Still, Patrick quickly walked away from the media waiting for her when she got out of the car and retreated to her team’s hauler for a 20-minute debriefing with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. before talking.
“It’s just a little overwhelming when people want to talk to you and you literally just got out of the car,” she said. “Just like anybody, they need a couple of minutes to cool down. I’m a competitor and I’m used to running up front. It’s shocking when you go that far back.”
More than two-thirds through the race, though, Eury told her over the radio: “You progressed a lot in this race, girl. I’m proud of you, what you’ve learned.”
Patrick originally was supposed to make her NASCAR debut at California, but went a week earlier than planned after finishing sixth in an ARCA race at Daytona. She also will race next weekend at the 1½-mile Las Vegas track before getting back in Indy cars for a stretch.
After five laps Saturday, Patrick was 41st of the 41 cars still on the track after two had already parked for the day. Fifteen laps later, she was still last on the track (of 40 cars) and had already been passed by seven cars.
When the 57th lap ended, Patrick had moved to 35th ahead of four other cars on the track and her lap times were improving.
At the halfway point, she was up to 32nd, though two laps down.