By: Farrah Kaye
Memorial Day weekend is famous for its racing. The Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 are American traditions and winning one of these two are high on a driver’s wish list.
Danica Patrick never won the Indy 500 before leaving IndyCar full time and it was highly unlikely she would win the Coke 600 on her first try. But Patrick made her weekend even more difficult by running in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Making her debut at Charlotte had more eyes on her than usual, being the first woman since 1976 to do so (Janet Guthrie). But Patrick didn’t feel the pressure.
“I feel like I’ve got a good distance preview with Darlington being 500 (miles), what’s another hundred after that right? I am excited,” Patrick said. “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to race in both of them because of GoDaddy.com and because of Stewart-Haas willing to put me in these 10 races this year. I will be running back and forth but it’s nothing other driver’s haven’t done before.”
Unfortunately, Patrick’s debut did not go well. She was 28th in the first two practices and 24th in the final practice. Qualifying was even worse. She was 43rd fastest of the 47 cars trying to make the field and only made the race because the No. 10 was in the top 35 of owner points.
The race started under the bright sun and Patrick, who started 40th, slowly made her way through the field, which isn’t hard to do when the back of the field is filled with start-and-park teams. By lap 50, she was already one lap down and got in the way of race-leader Marcos Ambrose.
Things got even worse from there, as she continued to go laps down (two laps down at lap 90, three laps down at lap 250, four laps down at lap 290) and got in the way of other drivers. Jeff Gordon was overheard on his scanner referring Patrick was getting in the way.
With 67 laps left, Patrick brushed the wall and had slight damage but continued the race, where she eventually finished five laps down in 30th place.
“We had a lot of green-flag running and for me as a driver in general in NASCAR, but especially as a new driver in the Cup Series, that hurts me. Those long runs hurt me,” Patrick said. “I’m just not great at making the best out of a car that’s not perfect and those long runs really show that. But that’s what you get in Cup. You get a lot of green flag running and I’ve got to learn how to deal with that. But that’s just the nature of where I’m at on the learning curve at this point in time.
“We brought the GoDaddy car home and one of the goals was to finish. I would have liked to have been a little faster overall, but I think there were some times in there when it was decent. It was kind of like Darlington (where) there was a certain run or two that felt really good and everything else, you just kind of like let’s work on this and let’s work on that.”
Kasey Kahne, making his 300th Sprint Cup series start, took the win for Hendrick Motorsports, earning Mr. H his 201st trophy. This marks Kahne’s third Coca-Cola 600.
In the HISTORY 300, Patrick had a much better race. She qualified third, after sitting on the provisional pole for a few runs. She finished 13th and on the lead lap. Cup series regular and past series champion Brad Keselowski won the race.
As far as not being at Indy, Patrick said she is happy in her decision to be in NASCAR (despite rumors there are plans to have her run “The Double” in the near future).
“I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there,” Patrick said of Indy. “I just had a lot of memories of what was going on. I’m very pleased that I’m in NASCAR. I’m very happy; I’m having a lot of fun.”
Patrick will not get behind the wheel of the No. 10 again until Bristol in August. Next week, the Nationwide Series heads to Dover.
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Sports and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.