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.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”