Danica Patrick admitted that last night’s Prelude To The Dream would be the first time she had really raced on dirt, saying that a kart race 15 years ago in Charlotte ‘doesn’t really count’.
But despite struggling early, needing a tow-in after wall contact in her heat race, Patrick did what she has done for the last couple years, she drove around, stayed out of trouble and logged some experience.
“Doing something different can be a little scary,” Patrick admitted. “I feel like that’s been the story of my life for the last couple of years, trying something different, taking on new challenges and getting out of my comfort zone.”
Patrick was definitely out of her comfort zone before the race started as she got acquainted with her new car. A friend of Patrick’s told one of her crew members that he’d like to see her eyes when she got out of the car after her first laps. The crew member chuckled and then said that wouldn’t be necessary.
“You should have seen her eyes when she got in the car,” he said.
Growing up on dirt tracks in the Southwest, Kyle and Kurt Busch are more than familiar with working on their own cars during an event. Both drivers got back to their roots after qualifying last night at Eldora as their dirt cars needed some hands-on care.
Kurt was wielding the orange rubber mallet to repair damage to the right rear of his car, while just 15 feet away, Kyle was supervising work on his #18 car, as two crew members repaired the left front area that had been folded up when the eventual feature winner hit the wall on his run.
“I was making sure that I was in there helping, but these guys that work on these dirt cars are really good and I figured I had better let them do their thing,” Kyle said. “These guys work hard and the last thing I wanted to do was to make more work for them.”
Dave Blaney was the last guy to arrive on site after getting left behind on the charter flight from yesterday’s NASCAR test in Pocono, but he didn’t waste any time getting reacquainted with Eldora Speedway.
Since he had missed hot laps and qualifying, the former World of Outlaws sprint car champion was allowed to run some hot laps during the third heat, starting 10 carlengths behind the field. But despite the fact that he wasn’t competing in the third heat, he still passed three cars in just eight laps.
He kept it going in his heat, coming from the tail end of the starting grid to run second behind Kasey Kahne before the Buckeye Bullet hit the fence with two laps to go. Blaney was strong again in the feature, running up front before a late incident dropped him to eighth.
Drivers talked all night about how tough it could be to get used to dirt cars, but for five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson it wasn’t unfamiliarity with the cars that ended his charge to the front.
Johnson, who won the Prelude To The Dream a year ago, came from 14th on the grid to run in the top five before falling back to finish 11th. After the race, Ol’ Five Time admitted that, as Spike Lee told us so many years ago in the old Mars Blackmon days, it was the shoes!
“I worked my way up to fourth pretty quickly,” Johnson said. “But they’re telling me I pretty much destroyed the tires. We went too soft on tires. I’m not used to having compound options and all that kind of stuff. But any time there’s an engine running, I have fun, and I had a lot of fun tonight.”