Danica Patrick made history in her first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series when she became the first female driver to start from the pole in a Cup race at the Daytona 500 in 2013. She finished the race in eighth place capturing her first top-ten in only her 11th start in the series. Her next top-ten would prove to be elusive, taking another 46 starts to accomplish.
Patrick began the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway this past Saturday in the ninth position and ran competitively in the top-ten for most of the race. She completed the event in seventh place for her career best finish. Patrick was ecstatic.
“I know that we haven’t had the best of times but its days like today that we work hard for,” she said. Patrick went on to say, “I’m just proud of everyone for working really hard and believing in me.”
Patrick has had more than her fair share of detractors but her team has always stood behind her. Teammate Kevin Harvick may have given her the inspiration for her career best run at Kansas.
“We talk a lot and I think for her it’s just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do,” Harvick said.
“As we went through the weekend,” he continued, “she kept her track position on the restarts. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas.”
Harvick explained saying, “Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect and you just have to take what it’ll give you and expect that every time you pit, it’s going to be better, and if it’s not, you adjust and move on.”
Patrick’s seventh place finish at Kansas puts her in elite company. She has the fourth best finish by women drivers in Cup Series history. Sarah Christian had a fifth place in 1949 at Heidelberg Raceway and a sixth place at Langhorne Speedway the same year. Janet Guthrie had a sixth place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1977.
However for Danica Patrick, the biggest thrill of the race was something quite different.
“I drove around the outside of the 48 on a restart,” she said proudly. “That was probably my most rewarding thing of the night. I say that with all the respect in the world because he’s Jimmie Johnson.”
Patrick is currently 27th in the point standings, moving up two positions this week. It is only a slight improvement but it could be the motivation this team needs going forward.
“I’ve always believed in myself,” Patrick says. “I’ve always believed that in the right situation, that I can do it.”
There will be those who say this finish was a fluke that means little in the grand scheme of things while others will suggest that this could very well be a turning point in Patrick’s career. But if determination and faith in one’s abilities is any indication, we haven’t seen the last of Danica Patrick in the top-ten.