Starting 22nd in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick had high hopes in her "secret goal" to achieve a top-10 finish.
Not only did she have confidence in her goal, but so did the her crew and her crew chief, Tony Eury Jr.
The race started out in a teasing fashion, as Kyle Busch took the lead after a quick amount of laps, repeating last week's Phoenix race all over again by lapping almost the entire field. It wasn't until an aggressive error in trying to pass below the field that he took himself out, scuffing the grass and slamming towards the inside wall.
That was when the race changed stories.
All of a sudden, the takeover of Kyle Busch became a true Nationwide Series race where over half the top 10 were Nationwide regulars instead of (as formerly known) "bushwackers" taking control of the field.
Crawling around two laps down at one point, Danica Patrick took wave-arounds by staying on track during pit stops, and eventually after grasping the Lucky Dog Pass to return to the lead lap, became a source of competition in the lead pack.
It was time for all eyes to focus on the leading group with less than 10 laps to go: Brad Keselowski, Mark Martin, Justin Allgaier, Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne were the only drivers with enough fuel to make it to the end after multiple drivers had to make green flag pit stops within the final 20 laps of the race.
Some had to look twice to see if they were imagining things. Danica Patrick, the driver who wrecked last year in Las Vegas and was still learning the ropes in NASCAR, was in the fourth position, and a driver with as equal of a chance of winning as any of the other top five competitors.
The final lap was approaching, Keselowski leading the field to the white flag with Mark Martin trying his best to save gas in the second position.
After just taking the white flag, Keselowski's tire blew, and he headed sideways into the wall.
Martin took the lead for his first time the whole race and brought it home to victory lane, his fourth NASCAR Nationwide Series win at Las Vegas in his five previous races at the track.
As Allgaier finished second and Keselowski dragged to a third-place finish, eyes followed the "GoDaddy green" car to the crossing of the finish line in fourth.
Danica Patrick had just become the highest-finishing female in NASCAR history since Sara Christian finished fifth in 1949, only the second season in NASCAR's history.
"We worked so hard on the car this weekend," Patrick said after the race. "We went from loose to tight to loose to tight with the same setup at times. But we had a lot of practice time, which was good."
And she wasn't the only one with a smile on their face. Her crew chief Tony Eury Jr. had a strong feeling about her finish as well.
"We knew going in she was capable of finishing in the top 15 this year," Eury said after taking in the day's events, "but if we got everything right on the car, we could finish in the top 10 with this girl really easily. I would have been upset if we didn't finish in the top 10 today."
Having already checked off multiple records in her IndyCar career, it wouldn't be shocking to see Danica Patrick achieve a whole lot more in NASCAR.
She's become a stock car racer over the past few races, not just the pretty face of NASCAR. Not only are her personal goals being met in the sport, but now, she's actually beginning to reach the expectations of the harshest eyes in NASCAR—the fans and the media.
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