Danica Patrick finishes 7th for new career-best Sprint Cup result

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After making the final round of qualifying for tonight’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway, it was clear that Danica Patrick had a fast car.

The question was whether or not she could keep it toward the lead pack.

But Patrick was able to turn in a strong performance, rising as high as third during the middle stages of the race before coming home seventh for her new career-best result in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The all-time best Sprint Cup result for a female driver still belongs to Sara Christian, who finished fifth in a 1949 race at Heidelberg Raceway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

But Patrick was able to better her own previous best finish of eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500.

“It was really just staying up in that lead group,” Patrick said of her strategy for tonight’s race. “You’re gonna move up, you’re gonna move down but generally [I had to] average out to where I was starting, and I feel like we did all of that.

“What can I say? I’m really proud of the team for building cars like these. This was a new car and it was so good. I think it shows when the runs were long and I would keep coming, that just shows this was a good car.”

Patrick has had a relatively rough transition to the top tier of stock car racing, and up to now, she has only really been considered as a legitimate threat on restrictor-plate circuits.

But pulling off a Top-10 on an intermediate track will surely be a major boost in confidence for the former IndyCar star.

“I know that we haven’t had the best of times, but it’s days like today that we work hard for…When we do this enough, this is the kind of stuff that materializes into wins,” she said. “We just gotta keep hanging around and doing what we’re doing.”

Also playing a role in her solid outing was Kevin Harvick, one of her three veteran teammates at SHR, who told her to just not worry about the car turning bad on her.

“As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts, which was probably the biggest thing,” Harvick said afterwards. “But I guess the one thing I did tell was to just quit thinking about it and smash the gas.

“Your car’s never gonna be perfect and you just have to take what it will give you. Expect that when you pit, every time it’s going to be better and if it’s not, you adjust and move on.”

Considering her outing this evening, it appears that Patrick took Harvick’s advice to heart.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”