Danica: Kansas wasn't 'light switch' moment
May 16, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- A week removed from a career-best finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Danica Patrick says that her Stewart-Haas Racing team has "to keep our expectation levels in check just a little bit."
"And that we don't just go out there and expect to run in the top five or 10 every single time now," she said following practice for Friday night's Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We have to remember that there is a process to it."
Patrick finished seventh in last week’s race at Kansas Speedway for her second top-10 in 57 Cup starts. It was the fourth-best finish by a female in NASCAR, trailing only a fifth-place run by Sara Christian (1949) and sixth-place results by Christian in '49 and Janet Guthrie ('77).
That she ran among the top 10 drivers for the majority of the race, at one point climbing as high as third, was perhaps more impressive than the final result.
"We skipped over top-15s and went right to top-10," Patrick said of her Kansas run. "Shoot, we pretty much skipped over top-20s -- I didn't have many of those, either.
"We have to keep improving and keep getting in the thick of the good drivers, move up like that. It definitely gives confidence, definitely is a good sign and (it's) definitely good to have those races. We just hope to have them more often."
The expectations of others, she said, "aren't important to me."
"They don't affect me. They don't make me go any faster ... and they don't make me go any slower."
Statistically, there's little difference in Patrick's results from a year ago, when she was 28th after 11 races with one top-10 finish. She will enter next week's Coca-Cola 600 27th in points, again with one top-10. But the Kansas effort clearly showed what Patrick and the No. 10 team, headed by veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, can accomplish.
Her teammates at SHR have produced mixed results this season. Kevin Harvick is a two-time race winner while Kurt Busch has a single victory. But consistency has been difficult to maintain -- Harvick sits 15th in points while Busch is 28th.
Team co-owner/driver Tony Stewart, after missing the final 15 races of 2013, is 22nd in the standings.
"I feel like I'm feeling the car better and better," Patrick said, "but I don't think it was a light switch (moment) for me. It was just a weekend that so many good things happened in the race and we ran with such good cars and passed such good cars that for me it gives me confidence, for sure.
"Like I said, I've always believed I can do that, but when you're head-to-head with guys like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Jr. ... then it's another story on it's own.
"I think that if we keep doing what we’re doing and keep our heads down and not get flustered; not every single weekend is going to be like that for anyone. But we'll have more of those, for sure."