The Easter holiday gave a break to NASCAR drivers, one that was much needed for some that have struggled in the early going.
One of those drivers is Danica Patrick. Patrick slowly made the climb into the top 20 for two consecutive races at Bristol and California, but she regressed with three straight poor finishes before the break.
After finishing just outside of the top 20 in Darlington, though, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver now heads to a track where she's barely finished inside the top 30. Finishing down four laps behind in both races in the early part of her career, Patrick will look to find success at the track for the first time ever.
With no wrecks at the track, Patrick might finally be able to use the .75-mile raceway to climb back up the ladder and into the top 20. Sitting well outside the top 16 in points with hopes of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the No. 10 car needs success right away to have any chance of making NASCAR's postseason.
Before the green flag waves at the Toyota Owners 400, here's a look at the results and latest news for Patrick.
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|4||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||271||1||5||5|
|Bojangles' Southern 500||Darlington Raceway||33||22|
|Duck Commander 500||Texas Motor Speedway||24||27|
|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|
Just 18 races remain in the season, and while the pressure might not be on for some of NASCAR's top drivers, it's certainly beginning to get unbearable for the No. 10 team.
With just one finish inside the top 15 and no results near the top 10, the time is now for Patrick to show that she is ready to compete and at least prove her relevance on the Sprint Cup stage.
The struggles for Patrick have extended to her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., as Bob Pockrass of Sporting News points out:
Neither driver in the sport’s power couple has improved on his/her rookie season.
Stenhouse was 19th in points last year and is 25th in the current standings. Patrick was 27th last year and 29th this year. They were supposed to improve in their second seasons, and while there have been flashes of progress (Stenhouse’s runner-up finish at Bristol), the results haven’t been there.
While everyone else is attempting to apply pressure on Patrick, she believes Darlington was a much more successful race than the results may have led on.
Patrick spoke about the 22nd-place finish on the "Lady in Black," per USA Today:
Tonight was such a big improvement for us from where we have been in the past at this track. The guys gave me a really drivable GoDaddy Chevy, and we kept making improvements to it all night. I just needed it to turn a little better.
I'm just really proud of Tony Gibson and all the guys tonight. The guys on pit road did a great job all night long, and really, it was just a good night for me and the entire team. We'll take this and look forward to the next race after a well-deserved break.
But it hasn't all been nerve wracking for the SHR driver, as she's been able to spend her down time making fun of her celebrity persona.
As with all drivers, Patrick has made sure her sponsors feel loved by doing numerous commercials for both GoDaddy and Coke Zero. Her newest sponsorship with Can-Am Spyder now has her helping out other celebrities escape the paparazzi.
The service is clearly just humorous, and one that Patrick says is "just a joke that we're taking to an extreme," per Bruce Horovitz of USA Today.
Though Patrick hasn't endured a ton of success at the NASCAR level this season, Tuesday marked a special day for the driver.
Just six years ago, Patrick became the first female driver to ever win in the IndyCar Series by visiting Victory Lane at the Indy Japan 300, as LeanIn.org notes:
Following the anniversary of that historic win for Patrick, another one soon in the Sprint Cup Series could do a lot for the confidence of both the driver and crew. Even a top-10 or top-five result would change the mindset for the entire team heading into the next portion of the season.
Here's a look at her overall results at Richmond heading into the pivotal race for Patrick:
|Date||Start||Finish||Laps Led||Driver Rating|
|Sept. 7, 2013||36||30||0||39.1|
|April 27, 2013||30||29||0||42.6|
Where will Patrick finish at Richmond?
Richmond has been a tough track for the No. 10 car in the past, but a renewed confidence after fighting through Darlington to finish near the top 20 could help her in the long run. Heading out of the break, Patrick knows time is running out to turn the season around and will eventually find a groove.
Thanks to the success of teammates like Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who won three of the first eight races, to go along with driver/owner Tony Stewart, she has a great supporting cast to lean on. And with two of the racers already essentially solidifying their spots in the Chase, both can now help Patrick find her place.
That's not to say she'll immediately start registering top 10s after a poor start, but a possible top 20 could be coming for Patrick after narrowly missing out at Darlington.
Projected Finish: 19th
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