Danica Patrick Looking To Speed Up Sprint Cup Learning Curve

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Practice at Watkins Glen was a disaster for Danica Patrick -- a blown engine and a shock failure that led to a crash into the barrier.

With 14 races left, Danica Patrick is 28th in driver points -- one slot below her finish of her rookie season -- and won't qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup barring a surprise win in the next four races. She has learned there is much to do before she can expect to be a realistic postseason contender.

Patrick's four-race stretch since an eighth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in early July has been testing. She finished 22nd at Loudon, New Hampshire, 42nd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because of a gear problem and 30th at Pocono after qualifying 10th.

Then things got really interesting. During last Friday's first practice at Watkins Glen she missed a shift and broke the motor, then in the final session crashed into the tire barrier after a left front shock failure. Relegated to the rear of the 43-car field to begin the race Sunday, she finished 21st, which "isn't bad with the weekend we had," she said.

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While Danica Patrick took a step forward in the middle of the season, it's been a struggle in the past four races.

"The only positive thing is that I'm hoping I'm using up all my bad luck and mistakes and all the bad stuff in one day, so that I can get it out of the system before we go to the next one.''

Here's what else she had to say during an exasperating weekend.

Q: When will you be ready to enter a season as a legitimate Cup contender?

A: I think at times I feel like we're running really well and I think if we can improve on that then we might be in a position to [make the Chase]. I don't know when that will be. I think we took a big step forward in the middle of the year when we got a bunch of new cars, and it gave me some more confidence, too.

All I can do is make sure I do the best I can and try to stay mistake-free and try to be positive and keep everyone upbeat. If the team is building better cars and making progress and learning more and developing better setups, then I think that is all you can do to try and make that curve happen faster.

Q: You seem to be in the mix more this season, but it hasn't necessarily translated into finishes. Is that encouraging or frustrating?

A: If you can run much better and be faster and be in the mix, then I think that's the hardest part. Then when it comes to transmissions and engines and tires and things like that -- my mistakes -- I think that stuff goes away. But if you're not fast enough, there's nothing to look forward to.

At the end of the day it is about results so you get frustrated and ask, "What do I have to show for it?"

Q: What is the difference between driving an open wheel car, a Nationwide car and a Sprint Cup car on a road course? Are there any things that translate?

A: From open-wheel cars to stock cars I think you have to unlearn so much worrying about trajectory of the car. In an open-wheel car, even on an oval, I had to learn how to turn in earlier and load the car up, trying to turn in sort of late/sharp so you have a straight exit with tons of downforce and that's good. That's good but it's not as good when you have a big old car you have to change directions with. You need to sort of lean them into the corner a little bit more than an open-wheel car, so that's taken some time to learn.

Q: Why haven't you been able to translate your success on road courses in Nationwide to Cup?

A: I think the difference has mostly to do with most of the cars being really good [in Sprint Cup]. I think at JR Motorsports we had really good road course cars, so I have some figuring out to do on the Cup level with the cars. I think the level of competition in Cup is far deeper on road courses, and I think we need to keep making the cars better.

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