Simply making the field of the 2015 Daytona 500 was a test for Danica Patrick. Despite fighting her way into the Great American Race with a backup car, the results simply weren't there Sunday.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver nearly missed out on making the Daytona 500 when she was wrecked by Denny Hamlin during the Budweiser Duels. She recovered gracefully to capture a 10th-place finish and secure a spot.
Starting 20th Sunday, Patrick remained around the middle of the pack and finished 21st. It was her worst result at Daytona in a race that didn't end in an accident or engine troubles. Then again, she was driving a backup car on NASCAR's biggest stage.
With the series moving on from Speedweeks and the 500, Patrick returns to a track where she has shown vast improvement. Here's a look at the latest news and the Sprint Cup standings ahead of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
|Danica Patrick 2015 Results|
|2015 Sprint Cup Standings|
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||42||0||1||1|
|8||Martin Truex Jr.||37||0||0||1|
Patrick spent the first part of the week upset about the qualifying format, much like every other driver. After winning the pole two years ago, Patrick would have to earn her place in the Duel.
The day before, everything went south.
Hamlin and Patrick were drafting during a practice run when Hamlin took out Patrick, costing her the primary car for the week. Just over 24 hours later, Patrick and Hamlin were running together again when the No. 11 car sent the No. 10 car crashing into the wall.
The aftermath in the pits was almost as intense as the waning moments of the second Duel.
Her aforementioned finish inside the top 10 was good enough to make the field. The results on the track, however, were less noteworthy for Patrick than the qualifying race leading up to Sunday.
Jeff Owens of Sporting News noted how the incident during the Duels might have affected her drafting help Sunday:
She did avoid disaster a few times, with wrecks taking place in front of her. Most notably, she was able to steer clear of Ryan Blaney when his engine blew up in front of her, which likely would have ended her day as well.
Sitting at 28th on the final restart, Patrick was able to work her way closer to the top 20. However, she would have to settle for a 21st-place finish.
Like most drivers in the field, Patrick found it difficult to weave her way closer to the front during the three-wide racing. She spoke about that following the race, per an SHR release:
I tried high, middle, low (lanes) and nothing worked there at the end of the race. It was just a bummer that it was so hard to pass. Once it got three-wide at the end, there was just nowhere to go.
We definitely had to fight our way through everything this week, but at the end of the day, the GoDaddy team finished the race and I feel like we learned a few things for next time.
Unfortunately, Patrick wasn't able to find success at what is statistically her best track at the Sprint Cup level. However, NASCAR now heads to Atlanta, where Patrick has steadily shown growth.
In 2012 and 2013, Patrick was unable to finish on the lead lap in Atlanta. Last season, she captured her best finish ever in a Sprint Cup car. Here's a look at her full statistics in Atlanta, courtesy of DriverAverages.com:
|Patrick Atlanta Results|
|Date||Start||Finish||Laps Led||Driver Rating||Status|
|Aug. 31, 2014||27||6||0||81.3||Running|
|Sept. 1, 2013||21||21||0||61.1||Running|
|Sept. 2, 2012||23||29||0||43.6||Running|
Finishing 21st at Daytona was not how Patrick wanted the season to start, but it was much better than the accident she was involved in last year. In order to move into any discussions about potentially making the Chase, she'll need another strong result in Atlanta.
Patrick's recent success will be tested in Atlanta, especially after the trying week she had in Daytona. If she can show speed during qualifying and put herself in a decent position, this might be the week Patrick captures her first top 10 of the year.
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