Vegas finish gives Danica boost

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For the first time this season, Danica Patrick was not involved in a wreck.

Danica Patrick began the slow excavation of her early-season predicament Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The process promises to be lengthy, but movement finally became upward in the third race of the Sprint Cup season.

In finishing 21st, one lap down, Patrick produced her best result of the season -- by a wide margin -- and for the first time in her sophomore campaign managed to avoid major contact with another driver.

Frustration was evident in that neither of her accidents was of her doing. Patrick had been collected in a multicar wreck in finishing 40th at the Daytona 500 and was involved in a spin with Justin Allgaier last week in placing 36th at Phoenix.

"Obviously you always want more, but I'm happy with it, especially after what we've gone through the last two weeks," Patrick said. "It's a good day and gives us something to build on going to Bristol."

The Las Vegas finish made for leaps in both the driver and owner standings, the latter of which should help alleviate some pressure in trying to qualify for races from this weekend forward. Now 33rd in the driver standings, up from 39th, Patrick advanced to 35th in owner points, up from 41st.

Beginning this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, current owner points are used to help fill the field of 43 cars after time trials. The top 36 cars by speed are assured spots, with the final seven being assigned in descending order of owner points. The No. 10 Chevrolet has begun to separate in the owner standings from underfunded programs and is tied with the part-time No. 21 Ford of the Wood Brothers, which has attempted just two races.

Patrick is 11 points and seven positions behind Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch in owner points. Team co-owner Tony Stewart is 12 points and eight positions ahead. Patrick closed on both on Sunday after leading the SHR contingent at Las Vegas. Stewart finished 33rd and Busch 26th. Kevin Harvick, who qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup last week by winning at Phoenix, led 23 laps but finished 41st after developing a wheel hub problem.

Patrick qualified 22nd and fell to 30th early before recording lap times comparable to the leaders near the end of the race.

"We were really good all weekend," she said. "The guys gave me a great car."

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