By: Farrah Kaye
Danica Patrick gained a lot of respect – from fans, media and fellow drivers – during the Sargento 200 at Road America this weekend. She was in the top five all day. She was making passes and flirting with first place a handful of times. She battled with road course "ringer" Max Papis, until she passed him.
Then, it happened. Coming to the checkered flag, road course ringer Jacques Villeneuve (yes, that Villeneuve), punted Patrick into a gravel trap while Papis, Patrick and Villeneuve were fighting for position. Because of this action, Patrick went from fifth to finish the race 12th.
Villeneuve made waves during last year's race, taking out what felt like half of the field. The move against Patrick was referred to as "being Villeneuved," because it's what he's become known for. Social media networks were filled with messages that Villeneuve should be banned from NASCAR.
Patrick's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., had words with Villeneuve after the race. It's possible he might agree the messages.
"Every time he comes over here and races, he has a (problem)," Eury Jr. said. "He's not a good thinker. I expressed my displeasure. If you're gonna be a great racecar driver, act like one. It's just a matter of courtesy and respect and I kind of just let him know."
Villeneuve, on the other hand, felt he did nothing wrong and had a unique perspective on the incident.
'We were racing hard, and I wasn't even fighting with Danica, I was fighting with Max Papis,'' Villeneuve said in a radio interview. ''And just before the braking (zone), I guess he was wanting to cross over and go to the inside of Danica. And he probably didn't know I was there so he pushed me into the grass, and you don't slow down that much in the grass. So by the time I was on the racetrack again, I was going a little bit slower than Danica. That's all.''
In regards to his talk with Eury Jr., he said, "I really don't care."
Patrick, who has been known to let her temper get the best of her, kept her composure in her post-race interview, praising her team for their effort.
"I ran (in fifth) all day, I took the lead for a brief moment," she said. "That's the bummer, is we weren't able to finish that off. We all deserved it. The guys did a great job in the pits. They were awesome. (Crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. gave me a good car. It would've been good to get a good result."
Asked about the incident with Villeneuve, she kept it simple: "Y'all can make a decision on what happened there."
Patrick had a good weekend overall. She was 12th and seventh in practices and qualified 10th. She ran as high as second and would've finished in the top five, if not for the incident with Villeneuve. It was still a good points day, as she leaves Road America 10th, one spot ahead of where she entered.
Most importantly, it was one simple sentence that Patrick uttered which put a cap on the day, reminding us why she – and the other 42 racers – do what they do.
"I had fun today."
In the race, Truck series regular Nelson Piquet Jr. took the win, while points leader Elliott Sadler spun out but keeps the hold on first place. Kurt Busch – the only Cup driver pulling double duty – had to start from the back of the field after the team made adjustments during an impound race and finished eighth.
The series heads to Kentucky for a night race next week.
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