AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The roar of the cars resumed, Lap 194 clicked off the scoreboard and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in the lead.
It was about then that Danica Patrick stepped out of the infield care center at Phoenix International Raceway, where members of the media stood two and three deep and dozens of fans mingled in the background, camera phones at the ready.
Eighth a week ago in the season-opening Daytona 500, Patrick wasn't as fortunate in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at PIR.
A blown tire on Lap 185 sent her Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hard into the outside wall exiting Turn 4, where it bounced off the wall and into the path of David Ragan's Ford. Another hard hit and it finally came to rest against the inside wall on the frontstretch.
"Obviously I blew a right-front," Patrick, 39th in the 43-car field, said after departing the care center. "No real warning. ? It was a little unexpected. I took a hard hit to the right, and then on the left (but) I'm fine."
Seventh in points after her top-10 at Daytona, Patrick tumbled to 22nd in the standings. Teammate Ryan Newman experienced tire issues twice, his 40th-place car towed to the garage after 137 laps.
"I felt like we had some good racing going on out there, I felt like we were making progress with the car," Patrick said. "Not an awesome day by any means; we weren't tearing it up, I wouldn't say. But we were ? making progress, holding our own, over halfway through the race (we were) on the lead lap still. I'd say things were going OK.
"It would have been nice to have gotten maybe a top 20, just for some decent points. Instead, we'll have to buckle down and run a little better in Vegas."
Crew chief Tony Gibson said he didn't think the tire problem was a melted bead, brought on by excessive heat, although Goodyear officials later confirmed that was the case.
"We ran longer than that today earlier with no issue," Gibson said. "We didn't see any temperatures all day long; our tires we pulled off were fine. It's a mystery to me, I don't know."
Gibson said that on Saturday, under hotter track temperatures, there were no tire concerns for his team. "And we've got less camber than we ran last year with the old car."
Repairs weren't necessary as Patrick's car was totaled. But long after crewmen had begun the process of taking the car apart, Patrick watched intently from the sidelines. Had someone handed her a wrench, she appeared ready and willing to dive in and start removing something. Anything.
"She's in it to win it," Gibson said. "She's got all the desire and the want-to to do it, and she's got the heart. A lot of people don't understand that about her. That just shows what she does. She wanted to know what she could do different, was it something she did, how do we fix it for the next time.
"She's into it, she asks a lot of questions and wants to make things better. That's all you can ask."
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