After Top-10 start, Danica doomed by handling woes at Martinsville

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Two Top-20 finishes at Bristol and Fontana, and then a Top-10 start at Martinsville, had to make Danica Patrick confident of her chances Sunday at NASCAR’s oldest track in the STP 500.

But by the time it was over, Patrick’s momentum had been thoroughly zapped.

After her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy was plagued by handling issues initially, she was unable to rally back and finished 32nd, six laps off the pace.

Martinsville had emerged as one of Patrick’s more competitive tracks last year after she logged finishes of 12th and 17th there in her rookie Sprint Cup season.

But with her car tight in the corners and loose off yesterday, Patrick plummeted from the lead pack in the early stages.

“It was a disappointing day,” Patrick said. “We ran so well at Martinsville last year, but we struggled all race long today. It’s disappointing for everyone on the GoDaddy team. We had high hopes coming into this race based off what we accomplished last year, but we missed the setup.

“[Crew chief] Tony [Gibson] made changes every time we came to pit road and really hit on something around halfway. But by that point, we were already a couple of laps down.”

In a bid to get back on the lead lap, Patrick stayed out on track during cautions at both Lap 341 and Lap 412. But the gambles did not work out and she was forced to pit under green, losing more laps to the leaders.

“We tried staying out on a couple of the cautions to take the wave-around and get a couple of laps back,” she added. “It wound up biting us toward the end when we had to make a green-flag pit stop because the tires were killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t the finish we were looking for today.”

Before Martinsville, Patrick had improved her finishing position each week after starting the year with a 40th-place result in the Daytona 500. She’ll look to get back on track this weekend at Texas, where she finished 28th and 25th last year.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.