Sunday night was a career one in Atlanta for Danica Patrick, but it might not mean much for the season if she can't pull out a victory at Richmond.
After never reaching the top 20 at the track, Patrick started 27th and raced her way near the top of the leaderboard. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver eclipsed her career-best result with a sixth-place finish in the night race.
Though the story of the night early on was Tony Stewart returning to the track and Kasey Kahne earning a crucial win, Patrick showed potential on the track. She moved her way up to the top and was the best driver on the night for her team.
Unfortunately, that might all be for naught if she doesn't visit Victory Lane in Richmond. Still sitting at 28th in the standings behind boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both are in need of a win to make the Chase.
That will be a laborious task for Patrick as she finished 34th on the track back in April. As the Sprint Cup series heads to Richmond, here's a look at the latest news, results and standings for Patrick.
|RK||DRIVER||POINTS||WINS||TOP 5||TOP 10|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||851||3||11||16|
|Oral-B USA 500||Atlanta Motor Speedway||27||6|
|Irwin Tools Night Race||Bristol Motor Speedway||24||27|
|Pure Michigan 400||Michigan International Speedway||14||18|
|Cheez-It 355||Watkins Glen International||43||21|
|GoBowling.com 400||Pocono Raceway||10||30|
|Brickyard 400||Indianapolis Motor Speedway||14||42|
|Camping World RV Sales 301||New Hampshire Motor Speedway||29||22|
|Coke Zero 400||Daytona International Speedway||29||8|
|Quaker State 400||Kentucky Speedway||10||21|
|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 the last top 10 for Patrick might have been considered a fluke by some, there's no questioning the latest result.
The SHR driver merely remained on the track while several contenders wrecked during July's rain-shortened Coke Zero 400. But on a track where she had never enjoyed success, Patrick was fourth on the final restart and finished sixth in Atlanta.
Patrick spoke about her night following the race, per USA Today:
It was a long night. That race felt like it was 700 miles. Sometimes when you're running well they feel like that because you're hoping it stays there and keeps going well and you keep improving and you don't lose it. And there were definitely a couple of times later in the race that we fell back. The middle of the race the car was very good. We took a little step back but then it came back at the end. [Crew chief Tony] Gibson just reset everything to where we were when we were running well.
Where will Patrick finish at Richmond?
The reference to Gibson and her crew was an important one. During the final pit stop, Patrick had one of the quickest times of anyone on the track to remain near the top of the leaderboard.
Following the memorable finish, Patrick dedicated the result to her team, via USA Today:
"I'm just so happy for the team," Patrick said. "We've really had pretty fast cars for quite a while now and not really great finishes to show for it. So this is for everybody, for Go Daddy."
It was a career best for Patrick, but she still fell just short of having the top result for a female driver. ESPN Stats & Info notes where the sixth-place finish puts Patrick in a historical sense:
Danica Patrick finishes 6th. That's her best finish and 1 spot off the best by a woman in Cup Series history (Sara Christian in 1949).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 1, 2014
After a huge night in Atlanta, Patrick will need to better her success at Richmond in order to make the Chase for the first time in her career.
The Richmond results thus far for Patrick don't look encouraging, but she might be able to finish out strong at the track. Here's a look at Patrick's career statistics at Richmond:
|Date||Finish||Start||Laps Led||Driver Rating|
|April 26, 2014||34||35||0||36.5|
|Sept. 7, 2013||30||36||0||39.1|
|April 27, 2013||29||30||0||42.6|
Still inside the top 30 in points, a win would secure a spot into NASCAR's postseason for Patrick. While that may seem like a tall task, she could join Kahne, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger as surprises in the Chase.
Finishing four laps down in her last run at Richmond, she certainly has a chance of improving that result. But without a win during her career, a run at the Chase looks like a long shot for the SHR driver.
Predicted finish: 17th
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: