Danica Patrick Looking to Find the Right Balance in 2016

Just over three years into her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Danica Patrick is constantly searching for the right direction with Stewart-Haas Racing. It is a constant battle to improve and be better than she was the last time she came to the track.

Heading into Pocono Raceway Patrick sits 23rd in the point standings, 73 markers off the Chase cutoff held by her former Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Ryan Newman. The results may not show it, but the “Tricky Triangle” is one of her favorite tracks on the circuit.

“I would say Pocono is a place I’ve done well,” Patrick told Speedway Digest, while touring the Kalahari Resorts in Pocono Minor, PA. “I’ve not had great results, but usually run a little better than I do at some other places on a consistent basis. That always makes it better.”

In six starts at Pocono, Patrick has a best finish of 16th and in her last outing in August led five laps.

But this year she brings in new crew chief Billy Scott atop the pit box, hopeful to lead to better results.  

Through 13 races in 2016, the No. 10 team is still looking for its first top-10 finish. Patrick’s best result came two races ago at Dover, rebounding from a crash in practice, five laps into a run.  

She believes that the team has grit and determination that could lead it to better results in the last two-thirds of the season. Gaining a better relationship with Scott is one of the keys to that turn around.

“It’s a matter of developing a language and setup relationship with trial and error,” Patrick said. “I think every driver has their way of driving and every crew chief has their way of making their typical changes and the way that they go about things and how you can pair them together and optimize each other in the best way possible. It just takes time.”

While Patrick has struggled with top 10s over the past two seasons, her teammates, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have led Stewart-Haas Racing in arguably it’s best driver lineup to date. Tony Stewart increased the depth of the driver lineup once he came back from his back injury that forced him to miss the first two months of the season.

Dating back to the beginning of the 2014 season, Harvick has nine victories, 43 top-five finishes and 58 top 10s. Busch has three triumphs, 20 top-five finishes and 43 top-10 results.

Statically speaking, the two veteran drivers have out ran her as she only has posted five top 10 finishes in the same time span. The performance is one thing that she knows she needs to improve on.

“I know I have good teammates, which is a good thing,” Patrick said. “On the other hand Rodney’s [Childers] is not my crew chief, Tony [Gibson] was my crew chief. We operate a little different than some other teams. It’s crew chief driven. Your relationship with your crew chief and the things they do to optimize at the track within the team is different from crew chief to crew chief.”

Patrick is aware that she can lean on her teammate for advice, but there is only so much they can do to help. She still has to go out on track and drive the racecar on a weekly basis to try and improve the results, which is something she wants to do.

She has always been a racer, since the time she was a little girl. Now that she is getting later into her racing career the performance needs to improve to solidify herself in NASCAR and keep herself around for years to come and be a role model to the team.  

On Thursday evening she took two families on tours around Kalahari Resort. She met one of her biggest fans, also named Danica. She appeals to the fans, but needs to appeal on the track to compete up at the front of the field.

After the 2015 season, Patrick lost her GoDaddy.com sponsorship, but had another primary sponsor waiting in the wing in Nature’s Bakery for 28 races, fulfilling the schedule that GoDaddy.com was on the car. Racing is a sponsor driven sport and without the patience of those sponsors, she may not be here.

As the 2016 season progresses, Patrick is going back to some of her better tracks on the circuit. She is always a force on the restrictor-plate tracks, though she has two DNF’s in the two plate races this season. Her best 1.5-mile track result this season is a pair of 20th-place finishes at Atlanta and Kansas. The mile-and-a-half tracks are a bulk of the schedule, so it’s all about making progress on the tracks that she struggles on.   

She knows that the performance has lacked on the racetrack, and racing for Stewart-Haas Racing, it needs to improve though she is signed with the team through the 2018 season.  

”It’s a matter of setting small goals along the way,” she said of her focus for the rest of 2016. “For us it’s got to finish on the lead lap, top 15s. We’ve been finishing around 20th, which is very mediocre and we need to step it up.”

Dustin Albino

Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015. 

Twitter: @DustinAlbino
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