Danica dead last at Kansas
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Danica Patrick had much in common with several Sprint Cup championship contenders at Kansas Speedway: a spinning race car.
It wasn't the type of commonality she's seeking, but, with six races left in a trying and informative rookie season at NASCAR's top level, lessons come from everywhere, even from jarring front-end hits into the wall.
Patrick's No. 10 Chevrolet wobbled through the first corner of the race Sunday, and, after involving two other cars -- including Kyle Busch, who entered the race third in points -- she went headlong into the SAFER barrier in one of the harder hits of her brief stock car career.
"It's just a shame because it always seems to be the case [on] those weekends when things start to be going better and I've had lots of people say, 'You looked good in practice yesterday,' and I felt a lot better and [crew chief Tony] Gibson did a great job and the crew did a good job," she said after being evaluated and released from the infield care center.
"Things just go wrong. And days when you're not fast, it seems like those aren't the days that you get the bad luck. I don't know. If I did something wrong, I apologize to everybody on my team."
1. The finish matters: Winding down what will be her longest and most compressed season as a professional, Patrick said she is still concerned about having a strong finish, not just a prompt one.
"What enters my mind when I think about this season and it coming to an end is not that I want it to just get over with," she said. "I want it to just end well. That's all. Even if you can just have one or two good races at the end of a season where it's been up and down and a lot of down, and especially being a rookie season, that's a good way to end."
2. Embracing the mayhem: Many drivers, specifically those contesting the Chase for the Sprint Cup, fluctuate from cautious to anxious about the upcoming date at Talladega Superspeedway because the 2.66-mile behemoth of a track and its restrictor-plate racing style have a way of mangling cars and dreams while equalizing the chances of the entire field. With no such points concerns and a confidence founded in strong performances on plate tracks -- winning the pole and finishing eighth in the Daytona 500 in February -- Patrick foresees a chance at a late-season highlight.
"With speedways, it's a toss-up what's going to happen," she said. "So, that's why it's fun for me because somebody like me has a chance. On top of that, Stewart-Haas speedway cars are really good. So, hopefully it will be one of the good days at the end of the year."
3. Expectations have changed: Patrick entered her first full Nationwide season last year with admittedly unrealistic expectations. She recalibrated, and a focus was put on learning. That has happened again in her rookie Sprint Cup season.
"I would say that top-20s are the goal right now," she said. "I had really thought that top-20s are really where we should have been to start the year. But we started behind. I'd hoped to be more consistently in top-15s at this point."
4. Anonymous yet not: Patrick has gradually and seamlessly blended into the Sprint Cup paddock, in part because, as opposed to in IndyCar, she is a star in a galaxy of them. She seems to enjoy that very much as she goes about trying to get up to speed in terms of competition. Her force of personality is constantly reinforced, however. An Instagram shot of Patrick posing in New York City with the Breast Cancer Awareness car she raced Sunday at Kansas Speedway garnered more than 3,100 likes, roughly a thousand more than the typical image posted on NASCAR's account.
5. All-in on country: First a begrudging acceptance of country music, now starring roles in two country music videos and a co-hosting gig on an awards show with Trace Adkins. What's next? Perhaps a record contract?