While the biggest story in NASCAR this weekend was the roar of engines at Rockingham Speedway – after an eight year absence – in the form of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were at Texas Motor Speedway after their first break of the season.
They say the stars at night are big and bright in Texas. But if it weren’t for a lighting snafu under the those big stars, Danica Patrick wouldn’t have had the kind of finish she had.
In what has come to be known as a “Daytona-like caution,” the lights on the track went dark. Without proper lighting, the drivers couldn’t race properly. On lap 163, Patrick was a lap down when the lights went out and the caution flag came out. She happened to be in the Aaron’s Lucky Dog position and got her lap back. This led to a chain of strategic pit calls, allowing her to get fresh tires during the next caution, which made it easy for her to pass others in the field, ultimately crossing the finish line in eighth, her highest of the season.
Patrick’s results were a reflection of her entire weekend. She was 11th and fourth in practices and started 17th. During the race, she was no worse than 20th, even when she was a lap down. Could her performance be a result of the fact she enjoys the speedway?
“I’ve always enjoyed coming to Texas,” Patrick said.” Not only (are) there great crowds, and a lot of excitement, and I feel like a great atmosphere, but I like the track.
“I think I tend to perform really well on the banked tracks, and this is one of them. I’ve enjoyed coming here from the first time in IndyCar and the first time I was in a stock car. I’m glad to come back.”
Last year, Patrick had to miss Texas because she was doing double duty between IndyCar and NASCAR.
“I found myself really wishing I could be here,” Patrick reflected. “Hopefully it will be a good weekend for me.”
And it was.
In the race, Paul Menard sat on the pole, turning a lap of 29.717 seconds at 181.714 mph. Although he led 100 laps, he did not take the win. That honor went to reigning Nationwide Series Champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who led 68 laps and took the checkered flag for the second time this season.
After a tumultuous 2010 and winning the Championship in 2011, Stenhouse says all he can do to stay in his ride is win.
“I feel a lot better coming into this year, obviously, with the championship from last year,” he said. “One thing I do enjoy about this is running up front every week and we have a shot to win every week. That is all we can do. When we can finish it off like that, that is a positive.”
For those keeping count, Cup drivers are only one for six for the season. Sadler (2), Stenhouse (2) and Buescher (1) are showing the young guns have what it takes to fight against the veterans.
Ryan Truex replaced Kenny Wallace, who had to leave his No. 09 RAB Racing machine due to lack of sponsorship. Truex came with his Grime Boss sponsor; however, Wallace will wheel the Toyota again at Talladega.
The Nationwide series takes another week off before heading to Richmond on April 27. Patrick will head into the weekend 11th in points, up six spots after Texas. She is still 115 points behind leader Elliott Sadler.
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.