In her eighth NASCAR race, Danica Patrick and stock car racing finally seemed to click.
After struggling with an average 31st-place finish in her first seven races in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide Series, Patrick was running 12th — and on the lead lap with eventual winner Kyle Busch — with 11 laps left in the 150-lap CampingWorld.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
But Nationwide races have a habit of getting dicey as they near their end, and Saturday was no exception. On the next lap Patrick was involved in a multicar crash that robbed her of the top-15 finish she had sought.
"This [result] should have been much better," Patrick said as her JR Motorsports team packed her crumpled No. 7 Chevrolet into a transporter behind her. "I know in my heart I was having a good day, so we'll just take that."
Busch, also a leading driver in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series, recorded his record 12th Nationwide win of the season after starting on the pole and then rallying from a pit-road speeding penalty.
Series points leader Brad Keselowski finished second, while Kevin Harvick was third and Carl Edwards fourth.
Patrick had to settle for 30th after her hard wreck, which happened when she was hit from behind by the Toyota of James Buescher on the back straightaway of the two-mile Auto Club Speedway oval. Her car spun sideways and slammed into the wall.
"It was a pretty big hit," Patrick said. "Obviously we had a good day. I think we're getting closer. I just wanted to follow through with it. It's always disappointing when you don't get those results with just a few laps to go."
The wreck also collected Ricky Carmichael, the former off-road motorcycle champion who was driving in his second Nationwide race. He finished 31st and Buescher was 17th.
Patrick said she had "drifted up and kind of got into [Buescher] the lap before and I didn't mean to. We're all pushing really hard out there because it's those last few laps."
Patrick acknowledged last week that she was struggling in NASCAR and would welcome a driving coach. But she showed marked improvement Saturday.
After starting 14th — her best qualifying effort yet — Patrick dropped several positions and fell one lap behind the leaders. But she eventually worked her way back to the lead lap.
"I was passing good cars," she said.
Patrick also plans to drive in the last five Nationwide races of the season, starting next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.