Though the finish still wasn't the result Danica Patrick wanted, Talladega showed marked improvement for the driver.
Patrick started the Aaron's 499 in seventh and quickly climbed up the field to lead six laps for the first time all season. After pacing the drivers for two laps in the Daytona 500, Patrick's success in Alabama showed she is still a strong driver at super speedways.
No, she didn't pull off a win or even a top-10 finish at Talladega—something she has still yet to accomplish this year—but holding the lead for multiple laps earned both points and support from her fanbase at the start of the Alabama race.
Earning 23 points, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver took 20 or more points in her fifth race this season and tied for her third-highest point total on the year.
As the Sprint Cup circuit now heads to Kansas, Patrick hopes to push the No. 10 car to the end of the race—something she's only done once in three starts at the track. 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|
|4||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||328||1||5||6|
|Danica Patrick 2014 Results|
|Aaron's 499||Talladega Superspeedway||7||22|
|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|
Much like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Patrick has a huge following in NASCAR that has been waiting for greatness from the driver. While Earnhardt has put on a show this season for his fanbase, including a win at the Daytona 500, Patrick hasn't quite lived up to the billing.
But with several laps led at the beginning of the Aaron's 499, the crowd responded with a rousing applause, as Stewart-Haas Racing's official Twitter account notes:
Of course, a great run for Patrick at the start of the race in Talladega didn't come without controversy.
After relinquishing the lead to Brad Keselowski, the No. 2 car dipped down ahead of Patrick and appeared to let up on the gas. Keselowski ended up spinning off the track, ultimately losing the lead and going six laps down as a result.
Patrick addressed the controversial start to the race, per Bob Pockrass of Sporting News:
My apologies if that was all my fault. I mean, shoot, I struggle to take people out and not take myself out. I don’t even know how to do that. That by no means is anything I was trying to do. I am not out here to make enemies, especially on speedways.
I was running the bottom, and I was feeling I was about to get hung out. He went up to the outside and I was looking up into my mirror to see if I was clear of the 24 (of Jeff Gordon) to slide in. I was moving up to get into that lane to clear it, and I just thought the 2 (of Keselowski) had enough momentum to be gone past me.
To be fair, it wasn't Patrick's fault at all. The audacious move by Keselowski early in the Aaron's 499 simply didn't pay off and he wound up paying for it, but it was in no way caused by the No. 10 car.
Matt Kenseth spoke about the strange move by Keselowski along with his strategy later in the race, via Fox Sports: NASCAR:
After the strong run and a 22nd-place finish at Talladega, Patrick heads to a track where she has typically been flustered.
The SHR driver has never finished on the lead lap at Kansas, and has only been on the track for 52.3 percent of the laps raced in the last three events in Sprint Cup. Below is a look at Patrick's career results at Kansas, courtesy of Driver Averages.
|Danica Patrick Kansas Results|
|Date||Start||Finish||Laps Led||Driver Rating||Status|
|Oct. 6, 2013||29||43||0||29.3||Accident|
|April 21, 2013||25||25||0||55.8||Running|
|Oct. 21, 2012||40||32||0||40.4||Accident|
With her only top-15 finish of the season coming on a 1.5-mile track at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the year, Patrick has proven she can navigate her way through the field on tracks similar to Kansas.
Despite that prosperity earlier in the season, Patrick has never shown she can run well at Kansas throughout her tenure in NASCAR. Never leading a lap nor finishing two of her three races at the track proves this is a tough location for the driver.
But after putting together a poor record overall at the speedway, overcoming those early struggles will present a daunting task for Patrick. Don't expect Patrick to mirror her success at Talladega in Kansas this weekend.
Predicted Finish: 28th
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