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Daytona notebook: For Patrick, a fast car was double-edged sword

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet SS was fast enough to win the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500.

It was fast enough to stay up front for most of the day in the 55th running of NASCAR's most important race at Daytona International Speedway.

It was so fast, however, that Patrick spent almost no time passing in traffic and lacked the experience to make an aggressive move for the win in the closing laps.

Asked whether she was more elated with her eighth-place finish or more disappointed at not winning in one of the race's strongest cars, Patrick elaborated.

"I would imagine that pretty much anyone would kick themselves and say what I could have, should have done to give myself the opportunity to win," Patrick said. "I think that's what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that.

"There was plenty of time while you were cruising along. I was talking to (crew chief) Tony (Gibson) and my spotter on the radio, 'What do you see people doing? What's working? What's not?' I was thinking in the car, 'How am I going to do this?' I didn't know what to do exactly."

That's not surprising. This was Patrick's second Daytona 500. In her first, she ran one full lap before her car was damaged severely in a wreck she didn't cause.

"So I feel like maybe that's just my inexperience," Patrick said of her inability to construct a winning move. "I suppose the only downside of running in that front group all day is that I never got any practice passing. I never tried really anything.

"The only thing we really did was on those starts. The inside line had a lot of momentum for the first couple of laps. That was the most action that happened until the very end there."

Another close call for Mark Martin

Mark Martin has never won the Daytona 500. In fact, he's winless in 55 starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

But Martin, 54, has come close. In the 2007 Daytona 500, he trailed Kevin Harvick to the finish line by .02 seconds. In Sunday's Daytona 500, he pushed Dale Earnhardt Jr. into second place on the final lap, hoping against hope that he'd have an opportunity to race for the win.

But Jimmie Johnson held the top spot, Earnhardt followed in second, and Martin rolled across the finish line in third. Close again -- but no trophy.

"First of all, I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity," said Martin, who has said he won't return to Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 Toyota Camry next year. "There are a number of drivers who didn't get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot.

"I've told you guys over and over again, I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished. I'm pretty damn proud of the things I have. That's how I feel about... If things would have got crazy enough, maybe we could have got the big trophy."

There's an app for that

In an era when there's a tablet or smart phone application for almost everything, how about one that facilitates communication between driver and crew chief?

Toyota Racing Development and Microsoft have partnered to produce a Windows 8 touch-enabled app that does precisely that. In essence, it's a more compact mobile computing platform that monitors real-time performance data.

NASCAR doesn't allow data acquisition during the races themselves, but in practice and testing, a crew member can hand a tablet to a driver as soon as the car pulls into the pits or the garage. The driver can see his or her own performance data and compare it with that of other drivers.

The driver can then give feedback by pointing to a position on a track map on the screen, say Turn 1, and rating the handling characteristics of the car on a scale of minus 5 to plus 5. So the driver can tell the crew chief via tablet -- without letting other teams in on the radio chatter -- how the car is behaving at every critical point on the track.

The application streamlines the process of providing feedback. Eventually, there will be a wireless capability that will enable a crew chief on top of a transporter to see the driver's feedback as he inputs it.

Rather than try to tailor the application to specific drivers, it's up to individual driver/crew chief combinations to interpret, for instance, just what "negative 3 loose on corner exit" means.

"(The crew chief) kinds of tunes himself to know that when it's a negative 3 or 3 loose, he knows how to respond to that," said Darren Jones, group lead for software development at TRD. "So that's something between the chemistry of the driver and crew chief that they really start to hone in on."

Sharing data between teams also is a key to the success of the project.

"A big part of the Toyota program, especially in the (Camping World) Truck and Nationwide Series, is the amount of collaboration between the teams," said Steve Wickham, TRD's vice president of chassis operations. "In an ideal world, yes, we'd all have the same metric, and the drivers would all speak exactly the same language.

"This is one step toward that ultimate goal. At least they've got a number now, rather than a variation of text or numbers or finger gestures as to how the car's handling."

TRD is testing the application at the Nationwide and Truck Series levels before introducing it to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

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