Danica Patrick’s 2014 Speedweeks an exercise in frustration

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When all was said and done, the 2014 edition of Daytona Speedweeks was nothing to write home about for Danica Patrick.

At what many acknowledge is one of her two strongest tracks – she has frequently run in the top-10 at both Daytona and Talladega since entering NASCAR full-time in 2012, and even in her part-time races before – Patrick was involved in two major wrecks during the week, neither of her own creation.

Patrick was still one of the biggest storylines of the month heading into the week-and-a-half period, thanks largely to the comments offered by Richard Petty. It triggered a measured response from Patrick, a mild backtrack from Petty, and then an impassioned defense from her boss Tony Stewart that led to the rather crazy idea Petty, 76, and Patrick could actually race head-to-head.

On-track, away from the headlines though, Patrick ran better than her results indicated.

Her Sprint Unlimited wreck only occurred after Patrick had actually done a rather stealthy job of weaving through spinning cars in the tri-oval. It was only when she spun on her own in avoidance that she was right in the path of, of all people, her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Then she and Stenhouse were among the top three in Sprint Cup practice on the Friday after the Budweiser Duel races.

Saturday in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Patrick had a good shot to win after starting third in the No. 30 Florida Lottery-sponsored Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet. But she didn’t lead and with passing a little harder to achieve, and single-file racing the norm for most of the day, she faded to 19th by the checkered flag.

The Daytona 500 was also a relatively nondescript day at the office. Patrick started from the rear of the field after her pre-qualifying engine change; she methodically moved up to the mid-20s, but never seriously looked like threatening the leaders.

She did lead two laps during a pit stop sequence, but that was thanks to varying in-and-out laps in the field.

Coincidentally, she was struck twice during the race by both of Petty’s Fords. In the opening pit stop sequence, before the six-hour delay, she got hit by Marcos Ambrose while entering her pit stall. It was minor contact but still an interesting nugget.

Of course the bigger incident of contact came when Aric Almirola’s other Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, the No. 43, ricocheted off the Turn 4 SAFER barrier back across the track and collected Patrick on Lap 145. It wasn’t a particularly heavy incident of contact, but the result afterwards was Patrick spinning into the unguarded wall on the outside of the track just before the tri-oval.

“I think more than anything I am just upset because the GoDaddy car felt really good and it was the best car that I had all Speedweeks,” Patrick said. “It seemed like we could catch whoever and it seemed like we could move around, make lanes and just move around and move forward at the end of the day. I felt like everything was going pretty well, so it’s just upsetting. It’s a bummer, but you know that is the excitement of speedway racing that anything can happen, and it was unfortunate that I was on the short end of the accident. But that is the kind of thing that happens, and I appreciate everyone sticking around and watching, and we will go get them at Phoenix.”

You forget how hard some impacts can be that aren’t into SAFER walls, and Patrick’s was one of two of them during the race. In the waning stages, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne also hit a non-SAFER outside retaining wall on the backstraight.

Patrick’s day mirrored the frustration for the entire Stewart-Haas Racing quartet, who walked away from the Daytona 500 without a single top-10 between them and with several wrecked race cars.

Fuel cell issues hampered Stewart’s race, resigning him to a 35th-place result.

Meanwhile the two SHR new drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, ended only 13th and 21st. Harvick was involved in the final lap crash off Turn 4; Busch faded back despite leading 15 laps in the early stages of the race.

And as for Stenhouse Jr.? He ended a solid seventh. Go figure.

F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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