Danica focused on final push

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With races at Phoenix and Homestead left, Danica Patrick is running out of time to turn things around.

Winding down her first full season at NASCAR's highest level, Danica Patrick has been reminded of her first and only full year in the Nationwide Series.

There was a modest start -- excluding her pole and eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500 -- a slow increase in speed and then problems that come with newfound momentum.

"I wasn't super-fast figuring out how to go fast," she said. "When I figured out how to go faster, it was riddled with bad luck, things happening and silly mistakes. Then comes the end of the year, I started to get it together. A lot of that happened this year. I'd like to be running better at this point."

Patrick has two races remaining to make the final push through the end of the season and build on the encouraging elements of a highly visible rookie year in Sprint Cup.

Five observations

1. Major improvement: While gaining competence on the 1.5-mile tracks that compose much of the Sprint Cup schedule remains a work in progress, Patrick continues to display a quirky panache at the sport's most storied venues. A threat on restrictor-plate tracks, Patrick has raced well at Darlington and finished a surprising 17th at Martinsville, despite having to come from deep in the field, no easy feat at the .526-mile, paper-clip-shaped venue.

"There are two things," she said of the Martinsville finish. "I think that [crew chief] Tony Gibson has traditionally had good cars there. Beyond that, I think it's a track where it's a lot about rhythm, patience and discipline. … Then, I don't know, maybe I'm just OK there."

2. GoDaddy is still in: The domain name purveyor's transition to CEO Blake Irving and a new, ostensibly conservative advertising tack created uncertainty about whether the company's most ubiquitous pitchperson still had a place. GoDaddy's announcement that Patrick will again appear in its Super Bowl ad lineup appears to have quelled those concerns, bolstering Irving's assertion that Patrick still has a long-term future with the company.

3. Learning in the Chase doesn't cultivate friendships: Matt Kenseth, the then-points leader, referred to Patrick as a "derelict" for nearly running into him on pit road at Talladega. Jimmie Johnson also expressed dismay at how his hunt for a sixth title was nearly sideswiped by Patrick on the same pit sequence.

It happens. It happens in racing all the time, the only sport in which the pretenders and rookies and hangers-on assert their own agendas during the playoffs, and the contenders have to not only thrive but survive among them. Patrick's mistakes will be forgiven, as long as they are not detrimental to a driver's championship hopes, perceived or real, but it's best to stay far out of the way.

4. If she had a side bet with Ricky: … on the points finish, then she's going to have to pay up. Patrick departed Texas Motor Speedway 25th in the driver standings, 244 points behind Stenhouse Jr., who is 20th. As for the rookie of the year award, there might be some hope there. While Stenhouse also leads in the measurables of that award, there is a degree of subjectivity involved, with a panel assessing such intangibles as conduct and deportment. And only their best 17 races are assessed.

Statistics don't always win the award, as evidenced by the 2002 installment won by Ryan Newman, who beat Jimmie Johnson, although Johnson had more wins and finished higher, by a position, in points.

5. Chef Danica keeps cooking: Patrick's culinary interests have transformed from a hobby to a philanthropic endeavor, as she and Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware competed in a healthy-breakfast competition at Texas to raise awareness for childhood hunger and healthy eating. Patrick's contribution was a quick and healthy repast of French toast, scrambled eggs with cheese, peppers and spinach, and a smoothie.

"There were kids involved, and I said it would be fun if they picked the ingredients,'' Patrick said. "And DeMarcus can cook, too! It was breakfast-oriented, which was perfect because it doesn't take as long. It was fun and we raised money; that was important. Plus I got to cook, which is always fun for me."

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