Instead of significant improvement, 2014 starting off the way 2013 ended for Danica Patrick

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Danica Patrick was supposed to have a much better season in 2014, her sophomore campaign on the Sprint Cup circuit.

But after the first two races, 2014 is starting to look a lot like 2013 for Patrick, unfortunately.

Patrick struggled to a 36th-place finish in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

While it was a slight improvement from her 40th-place showing (after being involved in a multi-car wreck) in the season-opening Daytona 500 last Sunday, it’s obviously not the kind of start Patrick, crew chief Tony Gibson and Stewart Haas Racing were likely hoping for.

Patrick, who finished 27th in the 2013 final season standings, is now 39th in the Sprint Cup rankings after the first two races, already 77 points behind points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s tough,” Patrick said. “That’s two weeks in a row we’ve had good cars and nothing to show for it. The car was good all day, we just needed track position. I’m starting to think if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all. The GoDaddy guys built me a great car for the second week in a row. I hate it for them, and I hate it for GoDaddy. This is obviously an important race for them (GoDaddy is headquartered in Phoenix). Hopefully, things turn around in Las Vegas.”

Even though Patrick has lived in suburban Phoenix for the last few years, PIR has not been very welcoming to her.

Patrick now has four Sprint Cup starts at the flat one-mile track under her belt, the last three being finishes of 30th or worse.

She finished 17th in her first Cup race there in fall 2012, followed by 39th in spring 2013 (due to a crash), 33rd last fall 2013 (10 laps behind race winner Kevin Harvick) and now 36th (six laps behind the winning Harvick).

She was on pace for a possible top-10 showing in the fall 2012 race, but slammed into the wall on the final lap after being hit from behind by Jeff Burton.

And then as Patrick limped her damaged car down the frontstretch, she was hit from behind by Paul Menard after a big wreck as the checkered flag fell.

On a restart on Lap 171 in Sunday’s race, Patrick was headed into Turn 1 when she tangled with Justin Allgaier, causing her car to spin around against the outside retaining wall.

Both drivers were able to continue after quick damage repairs on pit road, but as she pulled away from her pit stall Patrick told Gibson over the team radio that she smelled smoke inside the car.

About a dozen laps later, Patrick went for a single-car spin and flat-spotted her left rear tire, requiring another visit to pit road.

Granted, we’re only two races into the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule, but Patrick isn’t the only driver having early season struggles. Kurt Busch left Phoenix 30th in the Sprint Cup standings, while Martin Truex Jr. (who started the Daytona 500 on the outside pole) left in 35th place.

Maybe the third race of the season in Las Vegas next Sunday will be the charm for Patrick.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.