For an incredibly brief moment extremely early in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, Danica Patrick was in second place.
Yes, it was hard not to wonder, albeit for just as fleetingly as her time in second was, if her first points race following her seventh-place finish a Kansas two weeks ago was going to be even better.
It was not. Patrick's car started fading backwards. Soon she was out of the top five, and then the top 10. But the 600 is NASCAR's longest race, there was plenty of time for improvement. Or for something to go wrong. Something went wrong.
Patrick's engine went sour and after going to pit road to attempt to fix the issue, she was quickly two laps down.
"The evening started off alright," Patrick said. "I had a good start -- second -- and (the car) started getting tighter and tighter and tighter. And unfortunately we weren't able to fix it on the first stops so it took a couple stops to make it a little bit better. And we had a plan there to make a big adjustment that I felt like was really going to help under yellow and dropped a cylinder or lost power."
With a slowed car, Patrick was reduced to logging laps until her night got worse when she was careened into from behind while slowing for a Marcos Ambrose spin in front of her.
After her team fixed the damage and Patrick was still in survival mode, the engine on the car finally let go just after teammate Kurt Busch's engine suffered a similar fate. There was no opportunity to show how significant Kansas was.
Now the focus shifts to Dover and then to Pocono, where Patrick's average finish in four races is a combined 29.5. Improvements there, or a good run at Michigan after that, will go a long way to validating the night of May 10th as less of an outlier than it may seem.
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