Given some of the hype that’s surrounded her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career to this point, an eighth-place finish for Danica Patrick would generally and widely be hailed as one of the biggest stories of the day.
Perhaps refreshingly, her run to eighth Sunday in the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 at Daytona was a relative afterthought.
It also speaks to an increasing level of competitiveness that has seen Patrick rise from also-ran to genuine mid-level contender over the last several weeks, which is a positive step for her career development.
Although her No. 10 Florida Lottery/GoDaddy Chevrolet sustained minor damage from slithering through the first “big one” on Lap 21, Patrick otherwise ran a clean, consistent race on what’s widely regarded as one of her best tracks, the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
The top-10 result was her second eighth place at Daytona, after also ending eighth in 2013 in the race she scored the pole position. She posted her career-best seventh place finish at Kansas in May.
“It’s been a crazy day,” she said, via USA Today. “I can’t believe we finished eighth.”
As a result of her result, Patrick now ranks ahead of boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the Cup points standings. Patrick is 27th, Stenhouse 28th. Patrick also is only three positions behind Busch, the new fourth car at SHR.
Stenhouse’s day was a forgettable one after helping to trigger the first 16-car accident on Lap 21.
Patrick’s actually been on the best run of results thus far in her two-plus year career in Cup. Her last month has seen finishes of 17th (Michigan), 18th (Sonoma), 21st (Kentucky) and now eighth. Her qualifying has been much improved as well, with starts of 16th or better in six of the last nine races.
For reference, Patrick had only seven top-20 finishes the entire 2013 season. She has six already in 18 2014 races, so she’s moving in the right direction.
By contrast, Stenhouse appears to be regressing. Yes, he’s matched his 2013 totals of one top-five and three top-10 finishes and has done so in just 18 races. But since his runner-up finish at Bristol in March, Stenhouse has just three top-20 finishes, and has fallen from 10th to 28th in the points standings.
Yes, Daytona is always a crapshoot, but it was still important for Patrick to take advantage at a track she usually does well at. She did on this Sunday.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.