Updated at: 11/05/2012 3:05 PM
By STEPHEN HAWKINS
(AP) FORT WORTH, Texas - Danica Patrick’s first Sprint Cup race with her new crew chief has to be considered a success.
Patrick had her best finish in nine Cup starts this season, finishing 24th at Texas on Sunday and running every lap for the first time. Her No. 10 Chevrolet was the last car on the lead lap in the race won by points leader Jimmie Johnson.
Tony Gibson was Ryan Newman’s crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing, but is moving to Patrick’s team next season. They’re getting a head start with her final two races this season, at Texas and then at Phoenix next week.
"We had a really nice first weekend," Patrick said. "It was really steady from the beginning. ... Tony Gibson did such a good job. I’m really looking forward to next year."
Twice, Patrick took advantage of the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. And she was running at times with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
"To come here and run on the lead lap, and a shot at a top 20, was pretty impressive," Gibson said.
BUMPED FROM THE SKY: Kevin Harvick’s crew had to make repairs to the No. 29 Chevrolet even before the engines started Sunday. The car was hit from above.
The driver’s side of the car sustained a huge dent when a parachute jumper landing in the infield as part of pre-race activities swooped over the car. A weighted bag trailing the jumper and holding a huge Texas flag in place slammed into the car on the upper half of the numeral 9.
Harvick, who is winless in the Sprint Cup series this season, tweeted a picture of the damage with the message, "Never good when the day starts with a parachute weight hitting your car. Welcome to 2012."
After NASCAR and car owner Richard Childress surveyed the damage, Harvick’s team rolled the car back to the garage for some body work.
Harvick started 23rd and finished ninth.
"The team did a great job keeping us in the game today," Harvick said.
He has never won a Cup race at Texas, but on Saturday night won his track high-matching fifth Nationwide Series race.
The parachute jumper wasn’t injured after the less-than-perfect landing.
WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS: There was a circus atmosphere all weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
As part of the track’s new "Wild Asphalt Circus" theme, a ringmaster in the full garb introduced the drivers before Sunday’s race.
There was a carnival set up in one of garage area’s for season-ticket holders. Plus, outside the backstretch all week was a midway open to the public with a ferris wheel and other fair rides providing a backdrop to the racing.
SPARKPLUGS: A quartet of drivers have started all 24 Sprint Cup races at Texas: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin. The first race was in 1997, and Texas has hosted two a year since 2005. ... Actors Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Julie Gonzalo and Jordana Brewster from the television show "Dallas" gave the command to start engines.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)