Danica Patrick has had a rough go after her switch to NASCAR. In 2013, Patrick finished 27th in the Sprint Cup standings, starting 36 races but only earning one top-10 finish. She found herself in the back of the pack quite often with an average starting position of 30th.
As it turned out, the only pole that Patrick took in 2013 was in the Daytona 500. She made history as the first woman to do so in a NASCAR event.
Even though the rest of the season did not go quite as well for Patrick, she gained valuable experience. Now her experience and confidence will be put to the test as she looks for her first victory in 2014.
The key for Patrick to improve her standing and make strides this season will be her patience. This element has been tested in the past—and again recently after strong comments from seven-time champion Richard Petty.
If Patrick loses her cool—as she has been known to do in the past—it will be the same old story for her again in 2014.
She is surrounded by an up-and-coming team—most notably 18-year-old rookie Dylan Kwasniewski—and must effectively display leadership to take the next step. She began to show just that during the race for the pole this year in Daytona.
After the qualifying race, Kwasniewski credited Patrick for her efforts during an interview with Joao Correa of MotorSport.com:
I was looking at this sea of cars. It looked like an army in there. Coming up to it, I was like, 'I don't know how we're going to navigate through this. We might get blocked out.' But somehow (Patrick) picked it just right. She shot the middle really good, and we were able to get through there cleanly. I was amazed we got through there, not only that we put up that fast of a lap. She did a great job of guiding us though there safely, and it was definitely a team effort to put up these fast times.
That kind of patience and teamwork that Patrick displayed is exactly what will propel her to the top.
Despite that good showing, Patrick clearly has some issues with nerves. During an interview with Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News, Patrick explained her heightened confidence when in the rear of the pack:
I feel more comfortable, and I've always said I feel more nervous when I'm further up, so essentially (I'm) less nervous because there is really only upside. There's a chance that it could go really badly, but you know what, I'm just looking at the positive side of things. We have lots of ground we can make up and that can be a really fun day.
If she can get over those jitters and avoid making rash decisions to get out of the hole, Patrick will have a far better chance of bolstering her position in the standings. So far, that rear position hasn't worked in her favor, as she sits in 34th position entering the 37th lap of the Daytona 500.
After all, she has gained experience and plans on using it to her advantage. Said Patrick in the Sporting News piece, "More than anything, we jell better as a team, we communicate more seamlessly and better, and I think I'm starting to really find some strategies that seem to be working for me."
That's a great thought; however, Patrick also commented on gaining success in NASCAR: "I'm not getting any younger, so I might as well do it now."
At 31 years of age, Patrick still has plenty of time to prove her doubters wrong. It is just a matter of pacing herself and applying the necessary patience, teamwork and confidence to get it done.
If Patrick can remain calm and avoid more drama off the track, she will quickly begin to propel herself in the right direction—toward the front of the pack.