May 10, 2014; Kansas City, KS, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick during the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The last weekend at Kansas Speedway was quite a good one for Stewart-Haas Racing but the result of one of their cars in particular exceeded all expectations. The green Chevrolet driven by Danica Patrick in fact impressed everybody during qualifying in which she obtained the ninth fastest time and then even more in the race where she ran up front most of the time and got home with a seventh place finish. It was Patrick’s best career finish in the Sprint Cup in 57 starts, the first top ten of the season and the first one not coming on restrictor-plate tracks, places where luck has a great influence on the races.
What’s more, this seventh place was the right ending of a well-conducted race, in which Patrick clearly had a very fast car, crew chief Tony Gibson made the correct adjustments, and the driver raced her way through the field really aggressively, showing great confidence. It also looked like all of her troubles on the track, especially overtaking other drivers and restarts which have always been her Achilles’ heel, had suddenly disappeared. Patrick in fact outran a lot of opponents for the whole length of the race and even took the chance of passing six-time champion Jimmie Johnson on the outside during a restart. She wouldn’t have attempted any of these moves in any other race before.
This confidence probably comes in part from the advice Patrick received from teammate Kevin Harvick before the qualifying session on Friday. The two drivers sat down to talk about what is the perfect way to drive at Kansas Speedway and it certainly helped Patrick during qualifying and then in the race. But this was not the only reason for her great race on Saturday night. The fast car that Stewart-Haas Racing built for her helped Patrick very much throughout the weekend, as well as all the help and suggestions that her mentor, ex-driver and winner Mark Martin, gives her to improve her performances every weekend: they seem to start having an effect.
Last but not least Patrick’s experience at the wheel of a Stock Car has definitely grown a lot this year and even if with many up and downs she is showing it, especially on 1.5-mile tracks, which she is starting to figure out better. Another fact that Illinois-native driver and Gibson as well as many journalists have been repeating for a long time now is that the she has learnt to give better feedback of how the car is handling to the team, helping them in deciding what adjustments to make. All these factors put together have made Patrick very competitive in Kansas and maybe, even if it’s too early to get too much optimist about her performances, they will continue having a good effect on her competitiveness. The next weekend the Sprint All Star Race will take place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track. This may just be the perfect time for Patrick to shock everybody by getting in the race without needing to be voted in by the fans but by winning or finishing second in the Sprint Showdown. Who knows?