NASCAR’s Danica Patrick and the mediocrity of her rookie Cup season
Danica Patrick was heard swearing in frustration at one point during Sunday’s NASCAR race in Dover, Del., and who can blame her?
The mediocrity that is Patrick’s rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series rolls on, the popular driver struggling to place her No. 10 Chevrolet even in the top 20 each week.
The AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway was no exception. She finished 29th in the 43-car field, six laps down from winner Jimmie Johnson.
With an ill-handling car from the start, “it was just a frustrating day,” Patrick said in notes released by her Stewart-Haas Racing team. “It’s disappointing, but we’ll move on.”
Through 29 races this season, Patrick has four top-15 finishes; the last time was nearly three months ago, when the former IndyCar racer finished 14th at Daytona International Speedway on July 6.
Patrick is now 28th in the Cup standings and she’s been 25th or worse since the second week of the season.
Her boyfriend and fellow Cup driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is doing somewhat better in his No. 17 Ford prepared by Roush Fenway Racing.
Stenhouse finished 17th at Dover and, while he hasn’t won a Cup race this year, either, he has seven top-15 finishes and he’s 19th in the point standings.
Make no mistake, NASCAR’s Cup series is ultra-competitive, especially for a rookie. One need only ask reigning champion Brad Keselowski, who failed to qualify for NASCAR’s title playoff again this year.
Except for Daytona and Talladega, the two tracks where speeds are capped and the cars run in large packs, Patrick still has a lot to learn about running up front with the likes of Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch.
Part of the problem is that she hasn’t qualified well, so she’s frequently starting in the back half of the field. The last time Patrick started a race in the top 15 again was at Daytona in July, when she qualified 11th.
But two weeks ago, after she finished 20th in the race at Chicagoland Speedway, Patrick was cautiously optimistic about finding improvement.
“The cars are getting better and I’m learning things,” she said. “It’s going in the right direction. I’d like it to go further but I’ll take any progress.”
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