Danica soldiers through rough run in Vegas

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An almost constantly loose race car throughout Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway made for a long afternoon at the office for Danica Patrick.

After starting her weekend with getting hit by a rock while attending a dirt-track race, she ended it with a tough 33rd-place result, going six laps off the pace thanks primarily to her Chevrolet’s handling issues.

“We knew we were going to have tough days, but this is not the kind of tough day we thought about,” said Patrick, who now sits 30th in the Sprint Cup standings. “We need to figure out how and why [the car] changes so much from practice to the race and really learn this new car. I was extremely loose the whole time.

“We made it a little bit better in the middle of the race, to the point where it would go for half the run, but by the end of every run, I would find myself very, very loose again…We just have to figure out how to make it better and work our butts off to make sure that we never have this day again.”

After nearly winning the Daytona 500, Patrick has maintained that she’s keeping her goals realistic for the initial races in her first full Cup season. Since finishing eighth at Daytona, she’s had back-to-back rough outings at Phoenix (where she was involved in a vicious wreck with David Ragan) and Vegas.

But while she knows there will sometimes be bad days, she’s fully intent on staying positive in the face of such experiences.

“These are the days — and I said this on the radio — these are the days you earn your money, not the days like Daytona where you run up in the top-five all day,” she said. “Those days are great, but you’re just marching forward. These are the days that you have to be strong and you have to work through it and not let it drag you down.”

F1 2017 driver review: Carlos Sainz Jr.

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Carlos Sainz Jr.

Teams: Scuderia Toro Rosso (1-16), Renault (17-20)
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Singapore)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 54
Championship Position: 9th

Carlos Sainz Jr. has always been compared to Max Verstappen given their relative rise and stint together at Toro Rosso, but the Spaniard began to forge his own impressive path through 2017, securing himself a works drive with Renault in the process.

Alongside the struggling Daniil Kvyat for much of the season, Sainz led Toro Rosso’s charge, scoring 48 of its 53 points with a string of impressive drives. His headline moment came in Singapore when he matched Verstappen’s best result in Toro Rosso colors by finishing fourth, capitalizing on the start-line crash and the wet weather with a strong display.

Sainz’s displays led to a call from Renault, who announced just two days before his star display in Singapore he would be joining up for 2018 on loan from Red Bull. However, the deal was accelerated after a deal was brokered to secure Jolyon Palmer’s departure, allowing Sainz to join up from the United States GP onwards.

Sainz made an immediate impression, completing a perfect race en route to seventh on debut for Renault to secure six points that would prove crucial in the final constructors’ championship standings as the French team beat Toro Rosso to P6 in the standings at the last race of the year.

Red Bull retains an option on Sainz’s future beyond 2018, making him a candidate for a seat with its senior team should Daniel Ricciardo opt to leave. Failing that, Renault could offer Sainz the platform he needs to continue his rapid rise in F1 and establish himself at the front of the pack for many years to come.

Season High: Finishing fourth in Singapore after dodging the start-line drama.

Season Low: Crashing out in his final Toro Rosso appearance on the first lap at Suzuka.