Work Remains for Patrick

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick finished 27th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with one top-10 finish. (Photo: Getty Images)

Danica Patrick’s rookie year will be remembered as much for what happened off the track as on it.

The buzz started before the season with the revelation she was dating fellow rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. She then appeared in a record 12th Super Bowl ad. She’ll spend this offseason taping another Super Bowl ad and will co-host the American Country Awards next month with Trace Adkins.

Patrick grabbed more attention at the beginning of the season by winning the Daytona 500 pole, leading five laps and finishing eighth. That proved to be her only top-10 result of the season and the only laps she led.

On-track highlights became more measured for the first female to race in NASCAR’s top series since Shawna Robinson in 2002. There was a 12th at Martinsville that was encouraging, but Patrick struggled to string together consistent finishes. Her average finish for the season was 26.1.

She finished 27th in points, placing ahead of only three drivers who also ran all 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season.

One of Patrick’s main struggles was finding speed. She did not start in the top 20 in the last 18 races.

“It seems like sometimes throughout the year the car has felt pretty good and it’s not fast,’’ she said. “So I think that there is a tremendous amount that I still need to learn for sure and a lot of stuff that I need to work on for making the weekends more smooth like anticipating how big of changes need to happen from practice to qualifying and qualifying to the race.

“And the things I need out of practice that result in a good racecar those are all things that I need to learn. I need to be able to identify what is happening with the car better every time I’m in it so that I can help more. But, at the end of the day, the natural speed that is in the car does need to continue to get better.

She’ll get additional help with that next season.

Mark Martin, who has no plans to race in 2014, will remain at Stewart-Haas Racing and provide guidance. Just don’t call him a driver coach for Patrick.

“Danica does not need a driving coach,’’ Martin said. “She’s driving her tail off, doing an amazing job in my opinion. But if we can feed her faster race cars, she will reach her full potential.’’

Her progress was limited when the series returned to tracks for a second time during the season. Her driver rating increased in only four of those 13 races.

“I feel like the rookie year I’ve had has been actually similar to Nationwide, to be honest,’’ she said, referring to last season. “I wasn’t super-fast figuring out how to go fast. When I figured out how to go faster, it was riddled with bad luck, things happening and silly mistakes. Then come the end of the year I started to get it together, it did happen. A lot of that happened this year.’’

She finished this season with three top-20 finishes in the final six races - her best six-race stretch of the year.

“I’ve always said ... that everyone learns at a different pace and a different rate,’’ said Patrick, who would like to run about 10 Nationwide races next year. “There are going to be times when I do better than you expect, and there are going to be times where I do worse than you expect. That path is going to happen for a couple of years until (I) can get into a rhythm and know what you’re doing.” 

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