A fellow by the name of H.A. Wheeler — people in stock car racing know him better as “Humpy” — likes to tell this story about his first race as president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, after Janet Guthrie, The First Lady of Speed — before You Know Who — entered the World 600, as the Coca-Cola 600 then was called.
And how after The Lady successfully qualified, they sold every ticket for the race — “even the ones behind the posts” — and then how during the 600, they plumb ran out of water at the track, yes sir they did, because all these women came out to watch Janet Guthrie trade paint with them good ol’ boys.
“Now why did we run out of water?” said the fellow nicknamed “Humpy,” retelling the story as only he can, before a mixed audience, in 2006. “Never run out of water before. It’s my first race, but I knew we never run out of water before.
“Why did we run out water? All the women!”
And then turning to the female part of the mixed audience:
“Y’all use three gallons” in the restrooms during a yellow flag. “We only use about a quarter of a pint.”
Janet Guthrie, The First Lady of Speed, finished 15th in that World 600. You Know Who didn’t fare as well in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Danica Patrick finished 33rd, six laps behind race winner Matt Kenseth. The box score said she had completed 261 laps; under the “Status” heading, it said her car was “Running.”
Maybe it was. It just wasn’t running very fast.
But when I made my pit stop during the last caution period — and pulled the handle — there still was plenty of water in the media center.
It was one of those days where one takes solace where one can find it.
“I don’t have to tell you guys, I’m terrible,” Patrick told her crew over the radio. This was early in the race, when the leaders were approaching the start-finish line, and her No. 10 bright green Chevy was approaching Mesquite.
One lap down, two laps down, three laps down. How low can you go?
Had this been the Limbo instead of stock car racing, Danica and Joe Nemechek would have had everybody covered.
Four laps down, five laps down, six laps down? Yes, six laps down.
With three laps to go, Danica had the leaders in sight. This was after Kenseth and Kasey Kahne had flown by to lap her again.
She did a nice job staying out of their way, and then she held off Ricky Bobby for 33rd place, and then it was pack it up and let’s go to Bristol, Tenn., and let’s go there fast.
It was one of the few times the TV feed showed the GoDaddy Racing car — the Fox Gyro Cam actually got more airtime than Danica. This was probably a bigger upset than Douglas over Tyson in Tokyo, or even when Danica won that IndyCar race up the road at Twin Ring Motegi, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, in 2008.
Actually, when Danica has a good car and she’s running up front, out of traffic, she runs well. That often was the case at those Indy 500s; that was the case at the Daytona 500 two weeks ago, when she finished eighth after setting the fastest qualifying speed.
She ran out front all day at Daytona.
She ran anywhere from 30th place to 37th here. But mostly 37th.
“We knew we were going to have tough days, but this is not the kind of tough day we thought about,” she said. “We need to know how and why (the car) changes so much from practice to the race.
“We were loose the whole time.”
If it’s any consolation, so were the cars of her teammates, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, neither of whom were competitive either.
Stewart finished 11th, using every ounce of his heavy right foot, and smoke and mirrors, and assorted lucky dogs, to finish on the lead lap; Newman was running way off the pace, too, before his engine blew to bits.
“These are the days — and I said this on the radio — these are the days you earn your money, not the days like Daytona where you run up in the top five all day,” Danica said.
“Those days are great. These are the days you have to be strong and not let it drag you down.”
On a racy track that produced a Las Vegas record 2,342 green flag passes — maybe this new Gen-6 car isn’t as big a bag o’ bolts as Denny Hamlin said — Danica produced three. All on the first lap.
“Danica Patrick already has passed three cars,” Mike Joy said on the TV feed, failing to mention that they probably were diecast models of Harry Gant’s Skoal Bandit that somebody had tossed onto the Nellis Straightaway.
OK, no more beating up on Danica. As Jimmy Buffett says, “some people claim there’s a woman to blame,” but finishing six laps down, in 33rd place, on a day where the track was fast and racy and you could run just about anywhere you wanted?
Well, that was none of her own damn fault.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.