Over the Easter break, things appeared to be moving up for Danica Patrick. The No. 10 car was inching closer to a top-20 finish after a decent run at Darlington and the upswing had once again started for Patrick.
Well, it's back to square one again for the Stewart-Haas driver after Richmond.
The short track gave Patrick and the GoDaddy team fits, finishing five laps behind and outside of the top 30 for the fourth time this season. Frustration mounted for Patrick at Richmond, but she will now have more wide-open spaces in Talladega.
Despite her best efforts, Patrick couldn't keep her car on the lead lap. But with just 10 points earned, she was able to remain at No. 29 in the standings.
Before qualifying gets underway and the race officially kicks off at Talladega for the Aaron's 499 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox this Sunday, here's a look at the latest news on Patrick and her outlook for the upcoming race.
|2014 Sprint Cup Rankings|
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||309||1||5||6|
|Danica Patrick 2014 Results|
|Toyota Owners 400||Richmond International Raceway||35||34|
|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|
Though it clearly wasn't the result she wanted, Patrick simply chalked the poor run up to her difficulties on the track to not being able to figure it out behind the wheel of a stock car.
While she ran well at Richmond in IndyCar, Patrick hasn't quite mastered the track to this point in NASCAR, per Bob Pockrass of Sporting News:
If anybody has the key to Richmond, please pass it along because I have not figured it out, yet. I haven't run well at Richmond, yet. I loved going there in IndyCar, and I had good success there. … It just hasn't been that way in stock cars.
I have a really hard time getting into Turn 1. I feel like the car is going to spin out the whole time, so I don't know. Hopefully, this time will be different.
Results on the track haven't shown a vast improvement from her rookie season, but Patrick is feeling much more comfortable this year.
With two top-20 finishes and even a 14th-place result at Fontana, the growth has been slow for Patrick to this point. Still, she believes things are getting better for her team, via Pockrass:
I really feel like it has been a lot better than last year as far as the race goes, and qualifying, even. It's been, I feel like, a lot better. It's still not great but it's definitely getting better. … At some point in time, you've got to put it all together and you've got to run fast, qualify well and run great in the race.
That's been the entire issue for Patrick. Sure, a top-20 result every once in a while shows progress—and that eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500 last year helped—but consistency shows the mark of a great driver.
No, that doesn't necessarily mean Patrick needs to start winning races right away, but a few consecutive top 10s would go a long way for skeptics who don't believe she belongs on the Sprint Cup circuit. Given the fact that she hasn't navigated her way to a top-10 finish this season, running somewhere close to that would stall some of the criticism
Compared to last season, Brant James of ESPNW.com writes that Patrick's progress has actually decreased after her rookie campaign:
Consistency is a sought-after commodity, but Patrick and crew need their trend line to tick upward. Through nine races this season, her results are strikingly similar to, and in some ways less than, her first full Cup season in 2013. After finishing 34th at Richmond, Patrick is 29th in driver points with an average start of 27.4, an average finish of 27.1, and two laps led.
At the same point last season, after finishing 29th at Richmond, she was 26th in points -- with a pole and one top-10, both in the Daytona 500 -- plus an average start of 32nd and an average finish of 18th, which was bolstered by finishing eighth in the season opener.
Despite her struggles on the track, Patrick still remains an inspiration to young fans of the sport. Prior to the Toyota Owners 400, she signed autographs for fans who came out in full force to support the SHR driver, per Richmond's official Twitter account:
Now it's on to Talladega for the Aaron's 499. While Patrick has experienced some success at super speedways like Daytona, she has experienced issues in Alabama as well.
Here's a look at Patrick's results at Talladega during her Sprint Cup career:
|Danica Patrick Talladega Results|
|Date||Start||Finish||Laps Led||Driver Rating||Status|
|Oct. 20, 2013||23||33||0||64.6||Running|
|May 5, 2013||23||33||0||67.4||Accident|
Needless to say, Patrick has been consistent in Alabama, but it certainly hasn't been a good form of consistency.
The No. 10 car will have to avoid the "Big One" at Talladega along with trying to find a way to stay on the lead lap. Hopefully, the growth for Patrick will finally start showing as she improves slightly on two poor runnings in Alabama and creeps inside the top 30.
Projected Finish: 27th
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