Patrick’s progress


Crew Chief Tony Gibson said he was “tickled to death” at driver Danica Patrick’s qualifying effort for Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

That might seem like high praise for a 30th-place result in time trials, but not, as Gibson explained, when you look closely at the numbers.

Patrick was the third driver to make a qualifying attempt, following Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman on the grid in the warmest part of the session. In her first visit to the .75-mile track in a Sprint Cup car, Patrick’s time held up against some of the powerhouses of the sport who followed her in the qualifying order.

Patrick’s time of 20.979 seconds (128.700 mph) was only .004 seconds off that of 28th-place qualifier Carl Edwards, who had a late draw.

“She was only a few hundredths (.013 seconds) off Jimmie Johnson’s time,” Gibson said. “She did a great job in qualifying.”

Gibson said the effort at Richmond, which follows a strong 12th-place run Apr. 7 at Martinsville, is emblematic of the driver’s progress. For the race at Richmond, Gibson wanted Patrick to concentrate on the car’s ability to put the power down and drive up off the corner.

“The entry into the corner will take care of itself,” Gibson said. “The key to this place is maintaining forward drive off the corner.”