Sophomore year: Danica needs to step up her game in 2014

 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick speaks to the media during the 2014 NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

This is a very big and in some way pivotal year for Danica Patrick in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Other than her amazing pole win at Daytona last February and a couple OK runs the rest of the year, it would be fair to say she had a disappointing 2013 rookie season. The cherry on top was she even lost the rookie title to her boyfriend.

In all honesty, I gave Danica a Hall Pass last year. It wasn’t because she was Danica Patrick or even because she was a female. I gave her that pass because she was a true rookie. Lets also remember that her two teammates also struggled mightly at times last year. Even when Mark Martin took over for Tony Stewart following his leg injury, Mark’s finishes were nothing to write home about. Now sure both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman each won a race, but the reality is it was a pretty dismal year at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013.

My point is if the veteran’s like Tony, Ryan and Mark are struggling, then how can anyone expect Danica to be setting the world on fire? With that said, I see Stewart-Haas being a force this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. They have a lot of depth now behind the wheel and in the pits in all four teams.

Danica vs. 'The King' big news

Danica is closing in on 50 starts. There has to be a point where the talk of "she just needs more starts" goes away. I don’t know that we need to be setting expectations because many times simply setting expectations sets yourself up for failure.

With that said, Danica has to get to the point where she is competitive in these races. Despite all the changes going on around her teammates, her situation is pretty normal. Actually she is the only driver at Stewart-Haas Racing that has the same crew chief from 2013. That’s something positive that she can use and grow from.

Again I just say now its time for her to be competitive. She needs to run to the front and stay there. This season we need to talk about Danica when she’s taking the lead or getting a Top 10 finish, and not when she’s either getting lapped or getting the free pass.