The year was 2010. The track was Homestead-Miami Speedway. The battle was one between Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan, lap-by-lap, side-by-side, for second place in the last race of the IndyCar season.
Patrick prevailed for the runner-up position in what was widely considered one of her best races in open-wheel, the last time IndyCar raced on the 1.5-mile oval.
While you wouldn’t expect Patrick to be in runner-up territory as she closes the books on her second full season in NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead this weekend, she is keen on ending better after struggling her first two races working with new interim crew chief Daniel Knost, who was moved over to Patrick’s No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet team prior to Texas in a swap with the No. 41 entry for Kurt Busch (started 27th, ended 36th at Texas; started 32nd, ended 22nd at Phoenix).
“I’m ready for it. It’s a mile and a half, but it’s unique in that it doesn’t have the dogleg,” she said in the Stewart-Haas Racing team’s advance release. “I’ve only run it once in Sprint Cup, but we got a top-20 and we’ve run well in Nationwide. We’ve qualified well in that series and had a top-15 in 2012. We finished second in IndyCar, so I’ve got some experience there, just not a lot in Sprint Cup.”
Patrick was a major story most of 2013 as she transitioned to Sprint Cup full-time after making a handful of starts in 2012, but in 2014 she’s been under-the-radar.
She enters the weekend 28th in points, which is actually a spot down from 27th a year ago. She’s unlikely to move up as she’s currently 26 points in arrears of boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who ranks 27th. But she can’t fall further than 28th as Justin Allgaier in 29th is more than 100 points back.
Looking at that only would provide a misleading take on her season, as her overall performance has increased, primarily working with then-crew chief Tony Gibson. There’s been a jump from 30.1 as an average grid position to 22.0 this year, and a finishing jump from an average of 26.1 to 23.8.
She has three top-10 finishes this year, only one of which has come on a restrictor plate track. She has 13 top-20 finishes, up from nine last year.
So while it hasn’t been a season of a quantum leap, there have been some strides made.
“It’s been OK. We’ve improved in some areas and we haven’t in some, but we’re progressing,” she said. “We’ve qualified better and I think we’ve raced better. We’re hoping for a good run at Homestead to finish off the year and get us ready for the break. We had a decent car last week and I hope we can do better at Homestead.”
This race will see Patrick’s No. 10 adorned in Florida Lottery colors, as it has been earlier this season at the fall Daytona race.