In her groove: Danica looks poised for strong night at Kentucky
For Danica Patrick fans, you take your encouragement where you can. In fewer than two full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there's no question Patrick has struggled to come to grips with the big, heavy, ungainly stock cars with which she's wrestling.
Danica Patrick was fast all day Friday at Kentucky Speedway.
In fewer than two full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there's no question Patrick has struggled to come to grips with the big, heavy, ungainly stock cars with which she's wrestling.
That much is a given.
When you grew up racing light, high-downforce open-wheel cars, Sprint Cup cars feel like school buses. Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Scott Speed, AJ Allmendinger or even Travis Pastrana about the difficulty of the transition.
So Patrick fans shouldn't be too surprised that her resume includes only two top-10 Sprint Cup finishes in 62 career starts.
Still, in her second full season in NASCAR's top series, there's no question Patrick is running better than she did a year ago. In 16 races so far this year, she's finished 18th or better five times. That's as many times as she finished in the top 18 in all 36 races last season. Her qualifying has improved, too: Her average starting position this year is 21.1, vs. 32.0 at the same time last year.
Last month, Patrick scored a career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway, and so far at Kentucky Speedway, she's looked pretty racy: Patrick was eighth-fastest in Friday's first practice round, sixth in Happy Hour and she qualified 10th.
Like Kansas, Kentucky is a 1.5-mile, relatively flat track.
Like the Kansas race, the Quaker State 400 will be run under the lights on a Saturday night and will be 400 miles in length.
And, oh by the way, Patrick's mount for Saturday night's tilt is the very same Stewart-Haas Racing chassis she drove at Kansas, Chassis No. 10-837.
None of that, of course, guarantees a strong finish or even a good run for Patrick at Kentucky. But clearly, progress is being made and she feels good about it.
Patrick raced a lot at Kentucky when drove Indy cars, winning a pole here in 2005 and posting four top-10 finishes in seven starts. Saturday night, of course, will be very different, and that's where her test will come.
"It's one of those tracks where I have experience but, obviously, not in a lot of it in a stock car," said Patrick. "I've been there a lot, but I've only run three stock-car races there. I ran a lot of IndyCar races at Kentucky but, obviously, those aren't really going to benefit me this weekend. The track definitely has character to it with the bumps, and ... track conditions can change during the race. When you add all that up, it's a challenging place."
Patrick will try to conquer that challenge and add another good finish to her resume on Saturday night. Whether she can do it or not will be one of the storylines of the race.