Danica Patrick rarely does something under the radar but in recent weeks she has doing in some great driving in qualifying and nary a fan or critic has taken notice. In her last three races she qualified 7th at Talladega, 9th at Kansas and 4th at Charlotte. On March 30 she qualified 10th for the STP 500.
“All the cars have been good and the team has done well,” Danica said in a May 27 report. “At Charlotte, the car was really good. I think the big difference that came for me was in the second round. (Tony) Gibson (crew chief) made really good adjustments and anticipated the offset from run one to run two really well, and the balance was really good. I did that 20-whatever-seven, which was quickest in the second group. We have a lot to be proud of. I mean, let’s face it. This is the part of the weekend that I dreaded every time. I had to train myself to not say I hate qualifying.”
To put Danica's progress in context, last season she qualified once in the Top 10, pole at the Daytona 500, in 36-races. In 2014 she has qualified in the Top 10 four times in 12-races.
The improvement in qualifying has led to some improvement in the final results for the Scottsdale, Arizona resident. At Kansas her 7th place finish was the best of the season and the best of her NSCS career.
“Honestly, the most rewarding part of my night was probably when I drove around the outside of the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) on a restart,” Patrick said on May 10 after the Kansas race. “That was probably my most rewarding thing of the night. I say that with all the respect in the world. It’s a big deal because he is Jimmie Johnson. Aside from that I was really just overall proud that we stayed up front all day. That was the biggest thing.”
Of course any gains made in qualifying can be a moot achievement when you ultimately finish 39th.
After qualifying 4th for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night, her Memorial Day weekend was ultimately ruined by an engine that checked out early on lap 281. The race was 400-laps and she finished 39th.
“We had a plan to make a big adjustment (early) that I thought would really help under yellow,” Patrick said. “We dropped a cylinder or lost power, then we got hit. Unfortunately, we had a lot of bad luck. We weren’t really as fast as we needed to be at the beginning. It’s unfortunate for the whole team. It would have been great to keep the run going that we had. I think we still showed some good things last weekend. We’re not going to forget about where we’ve been lately and about running better. We’ll be back to get them at Dover.”
Patrick is making progress in qualifying but she is 27th in the NSCS standings heading into this week's race at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile has been as nasty as Godzilla to Patrick. In three career NSCS races she has finished 28th, 24th and 29th.
Despite the bad history at one of NASCAR's most imposing tracks she seems optimistic going into Sunday's the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks
“Dover is fun,” Patrick said. “It’s fast and it can make for a really long day of racing. I think that’s part of the appeal of it – how demanding it can be. We definitely want to stay out of trouble, which is easier said than done at these types of tracks.”