Bruce Martin
Sunday February 21st, 2010

FONTANA, Calif. -- If Auto Club Speedway is known as "Gillian's Island" because track president Gillian Zucker's speedway is so deserted, then Danica Patrick must have felt like a castaway after her second NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday.

Patrick ran dead last in the early part of the race and too fast on pit road, as evidenced by getting nailed for two speeding tickets after exiting pit lane. But, she rallied back for a 31st-place finish -- depending on what your definition of rallying is.

But the most important thing for Patrick is that she finished, and that was goal No. 1 for the IZOD IndyCar Series driver as she competed in a NASCAR race at this traditional-shaped speedway.

After a closer look at Danica's day at Auto Club Speedway, here are five things we learned:

1. It didn't matter where she finished, just as long as she was running at the finish.

Patrick, with just two NASCAR races under her belt, has learned this lesson well. He ultimate success or failure in NASCAR will not be measured by a few races, but expectations on Patrick are still way too high at this point in her NASCAR career.

Patrick had plenty of reasons for early frustration. After a pair of "start-and-park" cars pulled out after three laps, Patrick was last of the 41 cars running in the race. She was lapped by race-leader Joey Logano after just 18 laps.

"I feel like I'm hurting the right rear tire too much," Patrick radioed to her crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr., on lap 62, in reference to the line she was taking around the 2.0-mile speedway.

Patrick and her crew were able to work on the car during ensuing pit stops, but it proved to be a long day at the track for the highly-competitive driver.

Patrick may have been schooled by the competition, but in this high-speed classroom, she stayed out of the way, didn't crash, and finished the race. She can take that experience to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for next Saturday's Nationwide Series race.

2. At least she was fast on pit road.

Unfortunately for Patrick, this wasn't a good thing. NASCAR issued her two speeding tickets for exceeding pit road speed even though Eury told her not to exceed 4,200 RPM (revolutions per minute), when the actual cutoff is 4,700 RPM.

"Where the hell was I speeding? Can you tell me what trap? I am exactly at 4000 (RPM)," said Patrick to Eury over the radio.

She was clocked at 6,420 RPM at the last cone.

"I'm really sorry, guys," Patrick said.

"We'll be fine," Eury said.

After her second speeding ticket, Eury played an old trick used for people who are chronically late. You know the type that never shows up on time so they are told to meet in the lobby at 6:45 a.m. when the actual meeting time is 7 a.m.?

So on Patrick's third pit stop, Eury told her to keep the tachometer at 4,000 RPM. This time, she was able to enter and leave the pits without a third speeding ticket.

After that pit stop sequence, Patrick had her best car of the day, driving up to 29th place before finishing 31st.

3. Patrick is her own worst critic.

On the cool-down lap after the race, Patrick voiced frustration that she finished out of the top 30.

"Thanks guys. I'm sorry I sucked today but I'll figure it out," Patrick said to her crew. "It's amazing how many people pit with a few laps to go. That just goes to show you how much new tires mean. I tried to be aggressive today, but at least I learned a few things today."

Afterwards when she came out for a brief interview, Patrick continued to hold herself to a higher level.

"I'm a competitor, and I'm used to running up front," she said. "It's shocking when you get that far back. But you know what? This is a whole new ball of wax for me, and it's all different, and I have to disconnect from the result for quite some time I think, because they're probably not going to be what I'm used to."

It's Patrick's determination and strong will -- in addition to her looks -- that make her a racing phenomenon. She's need to call on that inner drive as she continues the challenge of attempting a different form of racing.

4. When it comes to the media, Patrick is a modern-day Pied Piper.

After the race, Eury told Patrick to drive into the garage and park the car near the truck. NASCAR, however, wanted her to stop at the end of pit road where a group of media members had gathered to interview her afterwards.

"Where am I supposed to go?" a frustrated Patrick asked. "They are stopping me at the end of pit road."

Patrick climbed out of her car and stormed off to her hauler, leaving a trail of camera people and frustrated reporters behind. Patrick, however, got lost and ended up going into the media's parking lot.

Once she found her way, she took three questions from electronic media and three from print media before heading into the transporter.

5. Not even Patrick could overshadow the dramatic finish at the end of the race.

Far too much time was spent focusing on the car running at the back of the pack while Joey Logano was leading 130 laps of the race. But when the race went into overtime, Kyle Busch was able to steal a victory away from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, taking the lead on a green-white-checker restart.

Busch's Toyota led just four laps in the 152-lap race. But he led the one that mattered most.

"That's crazy, can you believe that? That's racing right there," Busch said. "We worked on the car all day and never gave up. If they don't get pumped about that finish then I don't know what can get them pumped up."

Logano blamed his race loss on Greg Biffle, who nudged him out of the way on the final lap to finish second behind Busch.

"Greg Biffle got into me -- go figure," Logano said. "I don't know what it is about California Speedway that this happens. If you keep doing that, eventually it will come back and haunt you."

Biffle contended that Logano tried to block and that's when the two cars touched, sending Logano spinning across the grass top a fifth-place finish.

"He's not happy about that, but when a guy is beside you, you have to give him room," Biffle said. "I didn't think he would pull beside me that fast. A few people told me that he said I tried to put him in the wall and wreck him, and that is not the case. I was inside of him, and he knows I was inside of him."

It was Busch's 31st Nationwide Series victory in his 175th start, tying him for third with Jack Ingram on the all-time list. The .051 second gap between first and second was the tenth-closest margin of victory in the history of the Nationwide Series.

That alone should have been reason for fans to watch the end of this race, but the finish had to share the spotlight with Danica.

Surprisingly, Patrick's appearance didn't seem to boost attendance at Auto Club Speedway. It seems that Patrick's participation in NASCAR is followed by two groups: the media, and the television audience. She attracts the largest media gatherings of any driver, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the television ratings -- at least last week -- were dramatically higher.

As far as selling tickets, it doesn't appear that she has moved the needle in a dramatic direction, especially at the deserted location of Gillian's Island.

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