Danica contends again at Daytona until last-lap wreck

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It would appear that the Daytona 500 wasn’t a fluke after all for Danica Patrick.

Back in the February season-opener, the Sprint Cup rookie was a threat to win on the final lap before settling for an eighth-place finish. And tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona brought more confirmation that she has a firm grip on restrictor-plate racing, as she rose as high as second and stayed in the lead pack in the race’s second half.

Unfortunately for her, a potential Top-10 run was scratched in the final moments as she and David Gilliland made contact. Patrick was turned around and a multi-car crash in the tri-oval began as Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag just ahead.

After the incident, Patrick explained that she was looking to follow Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish.

“Junior and I had a good run through the middle and then up high around [Turn] 4,” said Patrick, who was credited with an 14th place finish. “It felt like I ran just along the wall but it could have been me that came down in front of the No. 38 [Gilliland].

“It definitely wasn’t what I was trying to do at all. I was just following the No. 88 [Earnhardt]. So, if that’s what happened, then I definitely apologize. I lost spots doing it.”

Patrick fell back in tonight’s early stages but caught a break that enabled her to get into the Top 10 by pitting just before a caution came out on Lap 71. She moved into the Top 5 after another set of yellow-flag stops around Lap 100, and at Lap 108, she was running right behind Johnson.

Following through on her intent to be more aggressive in her Daytona return, Patrick hooked onto the back of Earnhardt during the green-white-checkered finish (which she started from ninth position). She found herself sliding across the finish line in the end, but that didn’t cause her to second-guess her decision, however.

When the checkered flag is looming, it’s every driver for themselves, after all.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do on those last laps,” she said.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.