Danica Patrick looks for small positives in season lacking big ones
In the aftermath of Kevin Harvick's late charge to victory in Sunday's Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it's easy to forget that Danica Patrick led nine laps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
In a season devoid of many highlights, it was at least a ray of sunlight for Patrick.
It's been a mostly quiet but interesting season for Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.
She has no top-10 finishes, with her best run resulting in a 13th at Dover in mid-May. Patrick will revisit the 1-mile concrete track this weekend.
She finished 18th at New Hampshire after getting as high as 13th before getting stuck on the inside and falling back five spots in the closing laps following the final restart.
"We definitely didn't need that final caution," Patrick said. "We had a really strong run going before it came out, but it is what it is."
For Patrick, it seems one of her biggest problems this season has been in qualifying. She has yet to qualify better than 11th, which she did on the road course at Sonoma in June, and her average starting position of 26.0 is the worst since her rookie season in 2013.
After qualifying inside the top 20 in two of the season's first two races at Daytona and Las Vegas, Patrick has done so on only one other oval all season -- and that was at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 way back in May, when she qualified 19th.
In a sport where track position many times is everything, the poor qualifying efforts frequently force Patrick to start races in a hole that she hasn't been able to easily escape.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that despite the dearth of top-10 finishes -- she entered the season with a total of six in 118 career starts -- Patrick actually has led more laps in more races than during any of her other three full-time seasons in NASCAR's top series.
With the nine she led at Loudon last Sunday, Patrick has now led laps in six different races for a career-high total of 30 this season. That included a career-high 11 that she led on the other road course at Watkins Glen International in August.
Her average finish on the season of 22.1 also is a career best, and Patrick currently is 23rd in the points standings, another career high. Her best career finish in points was 24th last season, when she led a total of only seven laps.
These are small positives, to be sure, but Patrick is looking build on anything she can, including chemistry with her team. Patrick said she was pleased with the work of her pit crew and the adjustments made on her car by crew chief Billy Scott during last Sunday's race.
"My Nature's Bakery team did a great job on pit road all day and helped make the car better as the race progressed," she said.