Two words describe Danica Patrick's race at Sonoma: Mission accomplished.
Following her fourth top-20 finish of the season on the oval at Michigan, Patrick went into Sonoma hoping to improve upon her race from last year. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver didn't notch another top-10 finish but secured her first top-20 result at Sonoma in her career.
Patrick spoke about her thoughts on the course coming into Sunday's race, per Jeff Owens of Sporting News:
I’m very comfortable on road courses. I have a lot of fun. We tested at Road Atlanta a few weeks ago with Tony (Stewart). Hopefully, it goes better than last year.
The road-course races weren’t very much fun and they weren’t fun to drive. In the Nationwide Series, I had a lot of fun and led races and ran well. Our cars are a lot better this year and hopefully that shows this weekend.
After finishing 20th last season at Watkins Glen and slowly working her way into 18th at Sonoma, Patrick is showing vast improvement on road courses. While a top-10 result might still be a ways off due to stout drivers like Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer still dominating the courses, Patrick appeared more comfortable.
Now heading to a track where she narrowly missed out on finishing inside the top 20 last season, Patrick is hoping to secure her third straight quality result.
Here's a look at Patrick's results, current standings and news ahead of the Quaker State 400.
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||555||2||8||11|
|Toyota/Save Mart 350||Sonoma Raceway||11||18|
|Quicken Loans 400||Michigan International Speedway||27||17|
|Pocono 400||Pocono Raceway||16||37|
|FedEx 400||Dover International Speedway||28||23|
|Coca-Cola 600||Charlotte Motor Speedway||4||39|
|5-Hour Energy 400||Kansas Speedway||9||7|
|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|
While Patrick finished 18th and inside the top 20 for a second straight week, it wasn't all good for the SHR racer.
The 32-year-old found herself dropping from 11th all the way down to 30th at one point in the race. As she's done a few times in the past, Patrick redeemed herself in what looked like a poor showing to find her way back to relevance in a field of competitive road-course drivers.
Patrick noted the difficulties of driving at Sonoma, per USA Today:
I think we kind of salvaged something there. It would be good for a couple laps and then would just go away. We got lucky getting the Lucky Dog and then just pitted a couple of times for fresh tires and fuel and wound up 18th. It's not the best day, but I think we keep improving.
She also noted throughout the race on the radio that the car wasn't good on long runs, making it tough to handle on the lengthy road course.
Though her racing is slowly picking up on the track, it certainly hasn't slowed the criticism off it. Patrick has a rabid fanbase—she has over one million Twitter followers—but has also gained several detractors due to her driving.
That earned her a spot as one of the most polarizing figures in the sport, as Owens notes:
It’s no secret why Patrick is one of the most popular drivers in motorsports and in all of sports. The supermodel looks. The engaging personality. The worldwide celebrity. And a woman competing in a man’s game. [...]
But what is surprising is that she also has a lot of detractors. In fact, she is quickly becoming one of the most hated drivers among NASCAR’s fickle fan base.
Many begrudge Patrick’s place in the sport — the fact that she is so popular and gets so much attention despite mediocre results on the track. Many also hate the fact that she has a top ride while other drivers struggle just to get an opportunity.
Where will Patrick finish at Kentucky?
Owens went on to note that success on the track could send her popularity to all new heights. Now heading to another oval track, Patrick might just find that notoriety this weekend.
Considering her lone IndyCar victory came at a 1.5-mile oval in Japan, one might think she would have success at the tracks in NASCAR. Through just one start at Kentucky in the Sprint Cup, she hasn't proved that theory true, finishing 23rd last year.
As for this season, the only top-10 finish for the SHR driver came at Kansas—a 1.5-mile course. That was a huge change from her final race at Kansas last year where she wound up 43rd after a wreck.
With Patrick looking to find a similar turnaround result at Kentucky, here's a look at her previous finishes:
|Date||Start||Finish||Laps Led||Driver Rating||Status|
|June 30, 2013||29||23||0||57.2||Running|
|Sept. 22, 2012*||11||14||0||77.0||Running|
|June 29, 2012*||11||12||0||86.0||Spindle|
DriverAverages.com (*Nationwide race)
Though the results look much better in the Nationwide Series, Patrick has yet to prove herself on the track. But thanks to a seventh-place finish earlier in the year at Kansas, this weekend looks like one filled with promise for Patrick.
On a track where only three races have been ran on the Sprint Cup circuit, Patrick has nearly as much experience as every other driver going in. After improving upon her results at Sonoma, look for her to continue the streak with another top-20 result.
Predicted finish: 13th
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: