If Danica Patrick truly listened to her crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and took his advice to more or less get aggressive, she took it. And not in a bad way.
You might or might not like Danica and most will agree she definitely has a polarizing affect. But, fans have been waiting for a long time to see Patrick become more forceful which really isn't her style. Whether the racecar has had fenders or not; when it would get dicey, she would back off.
So, she's not going to remind you of Dale Earnhardt … or heck even Dale Earnhardt Jr. for that matter when it comes to her strategy on the track. She will generally use tactical, cautious and deliberate approaches to racing. But at Road America this past weekend, a new Danica emerged against some great road racers. She finally held her own ... and in the process maybe gained respect.
Patrick started 10th but almost immediately started moving up, eventually reaching the Top five and staying there. After a late caution, everyone packed up and a lot of back-and-forth racing was then spoiled by a dive-bombing Formula One driver.
Former F1 drivers were on the course as was a great sportscar driver. One of the F1 drivers, Nelson Piquet Jr. would win his first Nationwide race ever (see related articles). Patrick had very talented drivers all around her but she showed more driving skill than had been seen around Danicamania in quite awhile. She actually led for a bit and was charging at the end for fourth place. In fact, Patrick had passed Max Papis for fourth when the aforementioned F1 champion - Jacques Villeneuve - tried passing from sixth going inside of Papis but booted Danica in the process, sending her spinning and into a gravel trap (source - Yahoo! Sports).
Patrick gunned it and spun back around keeping her car from getting stuck while ultimately losing only eight spots to finish 12th. But her flirting with a top five was no stroke of luck. She earned everything and then some for her performance which was likely the best driving of her young NASCAR career. As far as her own opinion of Villeneuve's dumping her, Patrick simply sloughed it off as "being Villeneuve."
Eury Jr. had some words with Villeneuve and said of the former F1 pilot: "I expressed my displeasure. If you're gonna be a great racecar driver, act like one." But for his part, Villeneuve was non-plussed saying of the encounter: "I really don't care."
Patrick passed when it was there and she didn't let the guys go by her without a fight. If her more passionate display of racing had anything to do with her crew chief - we may never know - but it has been said she always improves the second time around and she certainly looks like she's improving ... and listening ... and gaining respect. Her more ardent actions on the track demonstrate she's moving to another level.
This one event will go down in the record books as simply a 12th place finish and nothing much can be gleaned from the day ... at least on paper. One race does not make a driver but if this last exhibition is an example of her advancing in the sport, then finally, Danica Patrick's legions will have something to cheer about.
Sources - Racing Reference, USA Today, NPiquet.com
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has blogged about every type of racing.