One step forward, two steps back.
That's the way Danica Patrick's season seems to be going. After putting together two good runs at Bristol and Fontana, in which Patrick claimed consecutive top-20 finishes, the driver slipped back at Martinsville and in the Sprint Cup standings.
While Patrick posted her best qualifying finish of the season with a 10th-place finish, the results during the race didn't reflect that as she wound up 32nd and six laps off the pace when the checkered flag was waved.
The day didn't go as planed for Patrick or crew chief Tony Gibson, but Jeff Gluck of USA Today provides commentary between the two that seemed optimistic about the future:
Tony Gibson tells Danica Patrick (P33, -2 laps): "We'll learn from this and be better next time." Danica: "Yep. That's all we can do."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 30, 2014
The promise that was shown through the previous two races has been replaced once again by doubt that Patrick can contend at the highest level. And with Texas Motor Speedway coming up—a track where Patrick has never finished inside the top 20—seeing a U-turn from the No. 10 car likely won't happen at the challenging 1.5-mile speedway.
With the green flag set to fly for the Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on Fox, here's a look at the latest news on Patrick leading up to the race.
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||227||1||4||4|
|STP 500||Martinsville Speedway||10||32|
|Auto Club 400||Auto Club Speedway||27||14|
|Food City 500||Bristol Motor Speedway||36||18|
|Kobalt 400||Las Vegas Motor Speedway||22||21|
|The Profit on CNBC 500||Phoenix International Raceway||33||36|
|Daytona 500||Daytona International Speedway||27||40|
It has been a sporadic season for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver, but Patrick looked like a contender at Martinsville. Coming into the race, she already had two top-20 finishes at the short track and was one of the top qualifiers.
Unfortunately, things went wrong for the No. 10 car and Patrick had to settle for her first-ever finish outside the top 30 at the track. The staff at USA Today gives a look at where things went wrong for Patrick during the STP 500:
The No. 10 Chevrolet was tight in the middle of the corners and loose off, causing Patrick to fall from her high starting position almost immediately. Patrick's team gambled by staying out on two late-race cautions – on lap 341 and again on lap 412 – to try and regain laps, but the strategy didn't pay off as Patrick had to pit under green-flag conditions late in the race, causing the team to lose additional laps.
Patrick also spoke about the struggles she had in the car, per USA Today:
It was a disappointing day. We ran so well at Martinsville last year, but we struggled all race long today. It's disappointing for everyone on the GoDaddy team. We had high hopes coming into this race based off what we accomplished last year, but we missed the setup.
Tony (Gibson, crew chief) made changes every time we came to pit road and really hit on something around halfway. But by that point, we were already a couple of laps down.
The ill-handling car meant not only a terrible finish for the 32-year-old driver, but also leaves her well behind the pack in the points standings through the first six races.
Crew chief Tony Gibson also reflected on the issues at Martinsville, via Brant James of ESPNW:
It was loose. No power down. Got hung on the outside there for a while and never could go forward. Just never had any forward drive all day. ... I think the race track just never took rubber and we didn't expect that. It hurt us for sure. We never raced this style of setup here before, and we needed more time on it.
Where will Patrick finish at Texas?
While the standings reflect the fact that Patrick has struggled this season, there are still 20 races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup officially begins. But without a win and 13 spots out of the top 16 drivers, Patrick has a lot of ground to make up during those 20 races if she plans to contend in the NASCAR playoffs.
In order to key in on that turnaround, Patrick will need to learn how to handle imperfect cars to get into contention moving forward. Heading into Texas, Patrick will have much more room to work on the speedway than at Martinsville.
Here's a look at Patrick's results at Texas Motor Speedway, via DriverAverages.com.
|Nov. 3, 2013||30||25||0|
|Apr. 13, 2013||42||28||0|
|Nov. 4, 2012||32||24||0|
It has been a rough track for the SHR driver in the past, but a strong showing at the Duck Commander 500 could do wonders for her confidence in the car.
Patrick has also never wrecked in Texas, so a repeat of what happened in Daytona and Bristol likely won't happen. But with no top-20 finishes in her past, it's difficult to envision one coming for her this Sunday.
Predicted Finish: 24th
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