[media-credit name=”Dan Sanger” align=”alignright” width=”251″][/media-credit]It was right there for the taking for Danica Patrick. Her first top five finish of the season and career tying best finish.
And it was taken – away by someone else. Patrick was running fourth on the last lap of the Sargento 200 at Road America, having passed Max Papis, when Jacques Villeneuve hit her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet square on the rear bumper. It was enough contact to send her off into the gravel pit and out of contention.
Instead of the finish she was looking for, and certainly deserved, she was credited with 12th place. On the cool down lap headed back to pit road, Patrick expressed her displeasure not only with Villeneuve but with the day’s racing in general. Things like dive-bombing, the unnecessary roughness and contact from Villeneuve.
Then she told her team on the course of events that took her out, “I could have [chickened] out and finished fifth or tried to pass him. I tried to pass him.”
When she finally saw the replay of what had happened, she was a little more subdued. But not less disappointed in the result.
“I’m going to start off with a positive, I ran top five all day,” she told ESPN. “I took the lead for a brief moment until I learned my lesson down into turn five when you try to get a little bit more out of the brake zone.
“So, that’s the bummer, that we weren’t able to finish that off and finish off with a top five like I feel like we all deserved. The guys in the pits did a great job, they were awesome and Tony Jr. [crew chief] gave me a good car and it just would have been good to get a good result.”
Everyone knew she was there though. According to ESPN statistics, she ran in the top five for 35 of 50 laps, 70 percent of the race. While road racing has never been her greatest strength, it’s not something that she’s terrible at either. In her first NASCAR road race at Montreal last season she ran top 10 before having brake and mechanical failures end her day.
When she ran in the IndyCar Series she was a contender too. She earned a second place finish at Belle Isle near Detroit back in 2007. Saturday was more of the same, when most thought she’d never be in the picture, she hardly left it.
That was until she was moved out of the way. Patrick held back when it came to what happened with Villeneuve, knowing her racing spoke louder than words.
“People sort of say I don’t get good results but today I ran well and I feel like lately we’ve been running much better we just haven’t finished the deal and gotten the results,” said Patrick.
“I don’t know, y’all can make a decision for yourself what you think happened there.”
Villeneuve is no stranger to controversy. He’s made a lot of contact with fellow drivers over the years, including last season at Road America. It’s left a sour taste in many mouths of those in the sport, last year Sprint Cup driver Kevin Harvick tweeted that he hoped Max Papis, who was then driving a KHI car, “punches his dumbass in the mouth.”
Saturday afternoon it was more of the same from around the garage. Even those who are normally critical of Patrick were hoping she and her team were fired up after the race. Eury Jr. was at least, stopping Villeneuve on pit road to give him his two cents. But whatever Eury said, fell on Villeneuve’s deaf ears and different point of view.
“Well we have nothing to do together. When I was behind Danica and [Max] Papis was on the outside, maybe he didn’t know I was there but down the straight he pushed me in the grass just where we hit the brakes,” was Villeneuve’s explanation.
“So when I jumped on the brakes I was in the grass because of that, I wasn’t right next to him. I couldn’t slow down because of that.”
And on what Eury said, “It’s just about that there was contact and I was involved. But it has nothing to do with me so I really don’t care.”
The good news for Patrick is that Villeneuve is not entered in next weekend’s event in Kentucky. The NNS returns to the ovals and Daytona is just around the corner, where Patrick made huge strides last season. She and the No. 7 GoDaddy team continue to make gains, her knowledge expanding and results starting to show.
And even though she didn’t finish where she was looking to on Saturday, she moved back into the top 10 in points. Not bad for a driver who said she didn’t care about the points when she entered the weekend.