Danica Patrick Needs More Than Change in Luck to Become NASCAR Contender

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 02:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, drives after crashing during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit On CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 2, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Pe
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Danica Patrick sits in 39th place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings after two races. Although a couple of bad breaks have certainly played a role in her slow start to the 2014 season, a reversal of those fortunes won't be enough to make her a weekly contender.

Patrick started 27th in the Daytona 500 and led a couple of laps during the series' highlight race before a late crash caused her to finish 40th. Last week in Phoenix, she was involved in another crash leading to a 36th place result after starting in 33rd.

So the driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet and her team arrived to Las Vegas thinking the results are due to change if they could get luck on their side.

Tom Jensen of Fox Sports passed along comments from both Patrick and crew chief Tony Gibson. They were each pleased with the cars, especially at Phoenix, and believe the races just aren't falling their way in the early going.

Gibson said the Phoenix car was probably the best the team had in awhile:

We had a fast car—probably the fastest car we've had in a long time. We were fast in happy hour. All of our Stewart-Haas cars were fast and Danica was really pumped coming into the race. We started the race passing cars and going forward, but it just wasn't meant to be. We'll keep our head down and keep digging.

Patrick is looking for things to change beginning in Las Vegas:

Hopefully our luck turns around after Daytona and Phoenix. We just seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's disappointing because the crew has given me two great cars and we have nothing to show for it. We had a good run in the Nationwide Series race at Vegas a few years ago, and we'd love to have another one.

It sounds good on paper and there's probably a grain of truth to their remarks. Getting caught up in wrecks is part of the sport and Patrick has happened to watch her hopes of contending fade away due to a pair of crashes to start the season.

Yet, to think more luck would be enough to completely turn things around for her seems overly hopeful.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 15:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florid
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Starting with her limited schedule in 2012 through the first couple of races this season, Patrick has just one really good race under her belt: last year's Daytona 500. She started on the pole, led five laps and finished in eighth place.

In 48 career Sprint Cup starts, that's the only time she finished in the top 10. Her average start over that span is outside the top 30 and her average finish is 27th. She has led just seven laps and has only that one pole on her record.

At the same time, her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing are enjoying far more success. Ryan Newman made the Chase last season before his time with the team came to an end and Tony Stewart finished just 52 points behind Patrick despite taking part in 15 fewer races.

Then, at Phoenix last week, new teammate Kevin Harvick dominated the field as he led 224 of the 312 laps en route to the victory. Patrick started and finished outside the top 30.

The pressure continues to mount on her with each passing week, as well. Richard Petty made comments before the season got underway about Patrick only generating attention because she's a female driver and that she could only win if nobody else showed up at the track.

Brant James of ESPN provided more of his remarks on the subject, which were made at the Canadian Motorsports Expo:

If she'd have been a male, nobody would ever know if she'd showed up at a racetrack.

This is a female deal that's driving her. There's nothing wrong with that, because that's good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport.

Patrick needs to race well in order to prove the legend wrong and that simply hasn't happened yet throughout her stay in NASCAR's top series.

Furthermore, there's nothing in her results that suggests bad luck is a major factor. If the other Stewart-Haas Racing cars continue to perform like they did for Harvick last week and Patrick's outcomes don't start improving, the questions about her ability to contend will only get louder.

As she approaches the 50-race mark in the Sprint Cup Series, it's time for the results to start trending in the right direction. Whether it's been the equipment, a lack of experience or luck, eventually the time for excuses fades away and it's time to produce.

There's still plenty of time for Patrick to turn the season around. Competing for a championship isn't a realistic goal at this point, but tallying more top 10s and leading more laps shouldn't be too much to ask.

It's going to take more than good luck to make that happen, though.