What’s next for Danica?

Article Written By: Chris Caraveo

Image Credit: Fox Sports

Nearly a year ago Danica Patrick led the field to the first green flag of the 2013 NASCAR season at Daytona.

That didn’t last long.

Patrick fell out of the lead before the drivers completed lap one, and she was first credited with leading a lap after the 90th trip around the track.

She drove exceptionally well, though, and stayed in the top 10 most of the race. When the white flag flew Patrick was in third place and actually had a chance to win. But she fell back and finished eighth.

That would be her only top-10 of the year.

Now in her second full season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick has her eyes set not just on being one of the top finishers but being a winner as well.

She will have to overcome plenty of factors in order to get to Victory Lane.

One of those is being the fourth option at SHR. The organization added a fourth car to its stable and brought in two top-tier drivers in Kevin Harvick and 2004 Champion Kurt Busch. Both Harvick and Busch made the Chase last year and no doubt have expectations to return in 2014. Then there is Tony Stewart who returns from a season-ending leg injury. Those three will have higher priority over the second-year driver.

Patrick also needs to qualify better. She had the fastest car for race one but she struggled in qualifying the rest of the way. Besides an 11th place starting spot—at the summer Daytona race—she started no better than 23rd in 34 races. It doesn’t help her chances to at least finish in the top 15 when she utilizes her car’s energy to make it into the top 25.

Even more discouraging for her chances is that there are just more talented stock-car drivers than Patrick. Last year’s 12 Chase participants plus notable others who didn’t make the playoffs—Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr. — are all exceptional and likely prevent the GoDaddy team from consistently finishing at the top.

Patrick will creep up on the best drivers from time to time but that cannot be enough to warrant more opportunities to compete in the Sprint Cup Series. With each race that she doesn’t win, or finish well in, she irritates fans who don’t believe she is cut out for the sport.

At 31 years old, she still has time to prove doubters like Richard Petty wrong, but how long that is remains a mystery. Stewart, both her teammate and boss, fully supports her. That can only help her future with the team and in NASCAR.

As she returns to Daytona, maybe Danica Patrick can pull off another first. One that involves a win.

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