Danica Patrick now at a crossroads, as fourth fiddle at SHR in 2014

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Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver for 2013 entered the NASCAR world as its media darling, its most discussed and highly scrutinized driver, and one of its most marketable stars.

A year later, and Danica Patrick will be reduced to a near afterthought in the SHR stable in 2014.

It’s been a fascinating evolution because for the first time in her career, she’s not the story, and that’s purely down to the results she and the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet team are or are not producing on the track.

Objectively speaking, she’s getting the right amount of attention now as the rest of her male counterparts who are consistently finishing races in the 25th to 30th place range on average – little at best.

That’s no knock on her. It was always going to be an uphill struggle in her first year and the results have been understandably difficult to procure in such a competitive field and with Patrick at a several-year disadvantage to her peers in this level of stock car racing. She has only five top-20 finishes in 24 starts this year, and six top-25 starts.

Patrick was brought into SHR as much as for her marketing ability as her driving ability, which is no secret to any casual or serious observer of the sport.

But for 2014, SHR has went out and acquired Kevin Harvick, a consistent champion-in-waiting who’s usually good for two or three wins a year and a Chase berth, and now, Kurt Busch, the 2004 champ who in his two years of “lower team purgatory” has outperformed his equipment and reminded everyone of his serious ability level.

Patrick’s name is rarely brought up on teleconferences, and there’s been a bunch of them in the last few weeks following Tony Stewart’s injuries. SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli and subsequent replacement drivers Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin have been the focus, not Danica.

It seems that for the first time in her career, the Danica “brand” has not been able to overpower the Danica results. That will be even tougher next year; she’ll likely be able to improve in her second full year of Cup, but she’ll be measured against three of the best ever in her discipline. And that’s no easy task.

Power, Newgarden, Dixon fastest in first of 2 IndyCar practices today at Barber Motorsports Park

Photo: IndyCar
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Will Power was fastest in Friday’s first of two IndyCar practice sessions at Barber Motorsports Park.

Power covered the 2.3-mile permanent road course in 1:07.5987 minutes at 122.488 mph in the 45-minute practice session.

Even though he spun off the course during his session, Phoenix winner Josef Newgarden still managed to be second-fastest (121.919 mph at 1:07.9141 minutes), followed by Scott Dixon (121.296 mph/1:082627), Max Chilton (121.251 mph/1:08.2882) and Ed Jones (121.215 mph/1:09.5692).

 

Sixth through 10th were Simon Pagenaud (121.208 mph/1:08.3122), Jordan King (121.113 mph/1:083661), Graham Rahal (121.059 mph/1:08.3964), St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (121.029 mph/1:08.4131) and rookie Zach Veach (121.014 mph/1:08.4216).

Here’s the full speed chart:

Incidents:

* Early in the session, Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi ran off the track and into the grass, striking a small sign, but was able to get back on-track. However, Rossi was only able to complete 10 laps, relegating him to 20th-fastest in the 23-car field.

* Moments later, it appeared the rear brakes locked up on Newgarden heading into Turn 5, spinning him into the gravel trap. He was able to get going and returned to the pits for service and was back on-track with less than four minutes remaining in the session.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The second practice session of the day will begin at 3:50 p.m. ET. A third practice will take part Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET. The race, to be televised live Sunday on NBCSN, is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

* However, weather forecast does not look promising for Sunday’s race. As of 1 p.m. ET today, the forecast calls for 100 percent rain throughout the day.

* Dixon has had an incredible record at Barber Motorsports Park, with seven podium finishes in eight starts there. Except for one thing: he has yet to win a race there. But he does have five runner-up and two other third-place showings on the permanent road course.

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