Danica drops to rear of field with engine change

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Danica Patrick will be starting at the rear of the field for today’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Patrick had qualified 32nd on Friday for her first run on the tough Virginia half-mile, but now must start all the way back due to an engine change on her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet — making what was already expected to be a big challenge even bigger for the former IndyCar racer.

Going into the weekend, Patrick admitted that she wasn’t sure what to expect in her inaugural race at NASCAR’s shortest track.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be really challenging and probably a little overwhelming right at first with all the other cars out there up to speed so quickly,” she said. “We tested at Little Rock [the short track at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway] a few weeks ago and I think that will probably serve well and gave me at least a feel for what it is like on these really tiny tracks with low pressures and how the car changes as they come up.

“I’m not really sure what to expect yet, but I’m going to go over and see [team owner] Tony [Stewart] after this and see what he says and take some recommendations on what to do.”

Patrick has had to race from the back a lot lately; her 32nd-place effort on Friday marked her best qualifying effort since winning pole for the Daytona 500 in February.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.