After Top-10 start, Danica doomed by handling woes at Martinsville

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Two Top-20 finishes at Bristol and Fontana, and then a Top-10 start at Martinsville, had to make Danica Patrick confident of her chances Sunday at NASCAR’s oldest track in the STP 500.

But by the time it was over, Patrick’s momentum had been thoroughly zapped.

After her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy was plagued by handling issues initially, she was unable to rally back and finished 32nd, six laps off the pace.

Martinsville had emerged as one of Patrick’s more competitive tracks last year after she logged finishes of 12th and 17th there in her rookie Sprint Cup season.

But with her car tight in the corners and loose off yesterday, Patrick plummeted from the lead pack in the early stages.

“It was a disappointing day,” Patrick said. “We ran so well at Martinsville last year, but we struggled all race long today. It’s disappointing for everyone on the GoDaddy team. We had high hopes coming into this race based off what we accomplished last year, but we missed the setup.

“[Crew chief] Tony [Gibson] made changes every time we came to pit road and really hit on something around halfway. But by that point, we were already a couple of laps down.”

In a bid to get back on the lead lap, Patrick stayed out on track during cautions at both Lap 341 and Lap 412. But the gambles did not work out and she was forced to pit under green, losing more laps to the leaders.

“We tried staying out on a couple of the cautions to take the wave-around and get a couple of laps back,” she added. “It wound up biting us toward the end when we had to make a green-flag pit stop because the tires were killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t the finish we were looking for today.”

Before Martinsville, Patrick had improved her finishing position each week after starting the year with a 40th-place result in the Daytona 500. She’ll look to get back on track this weekend at Texas, where she finished 28th and 25th last year.

‘Still quite early’ for Ricciardo to think about Red Bull F1 future

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Daniel Ricciardo feels it is “still quite early” to make a decision about his Red Bull Formula 1 future despite seeing teammate Max Verstappen announce on Friday he would be staying with the team until 2020.

Verstappen, 20, put pen to paper on an enhanced F1 contract with Red Bull, with his previous deal due to expire at the end of next season in parallel to Ricciardo’s own agreement.

Ricciardo was asked following practice on Friday why he is yet to strike a new deal for himself with Red Bull, and explained he is in no rush to make a final decision when he has over a year to run on his current contract.

“It’s not that I’ve said no to anything. It’s just still quite early I think,” Ricciardo explained.

“People talked a little bit about contracts and the silly season for next year, but I thought that would still happen next year. It’s still quite early.

“If I’m to try and extract some positives out of his news it’s that it gives us good confidence for next year. He and his management see a lot of positives in the team to continue like that.

“I’m 100 per cent here next year, I can at least say that, and I think it gives both of us confidence that we’ll keep progressing the way we are.”

Red Bull said upon announcing Verstappen’s new deal that it wants to “build a team around him”, with the 20-year-old standing out as a once-in-a-generation talent.

The focus surrounding Verstappen has not left Ricciardo feeling as though he is in the shade or in any way playing second-fiddle to the Dutchman, stressing he has no internal concerns at Red Bull.

“For sure, as far as media goes, he certainly gets a lot of attention. He’s broken records for his age and things like that, so rightly so,” Ricciardo said.

“Take the media out of it, as far as inside the team, new parts on the car, things like this, there’s always been parity and equality.”

Verstappen is only the third driver to commit to a deal beyond the end of next season, following Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari and Fernando Alonso at McLaren on multi-year contracts.

All 10 F1 teams have at least one free seat for 2019, making Ricciardo a possible candidate for seats with either Mercedes or Ferrari were he to consider a move away from Red Bull.

Speaking to British broadcaster Sky Sports, Red Bull F1 advisor Helmut Marko said he felt Ricciardo was “putting himself on the market” by waiting to make a decision on his future, but that talks would take place when possible.