NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 28 Danica Patrick

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Danica Patrick

Season finish: 28th

2014 Season Stats: 0 wins, 0 top-5, 3 top-10, 0 Poles.

What went right: While she finished one spot lower in the 2014 Sprint Cup season standings (28th) than her first full-time season in Sprint Cup in 2013 (27th), it’s pretty clear that Danica Patrick did show improvement this past season. She had three top-10 finishes (up from just one the season before), including a career-best sixth-place finish at Atlanta. Look at other 2014 improvements over 2013: 14 top-20 finishes (vs. nine in 2013), led 15 laps (vs. five in 2013), average start per race (22.3 in 2014 vs. 30.1 in 2013), average finish per race (23.7 in 2014 vs. 26.1 in 2013). And perhaps the biggest improvement: lead-lap finishes – 19 in 2014 vs. just 12 in 2013. Collectively, they may not be huge gains, but they’re gains nonetheless – and are also indicators that Patrick will be even better in 2015.

What went wrong: Obviously, Patrick would have liked a better season performance-wise. She didn’t have the big splash in the Daytona 500 that she had when she won the pole and finished eighth there in 2013. She also continued to have consistency problems from race-to-race. She also continued to have problems with restarts. “She’s got to really figure out a way to race better and be more aggressive on restarts,” former crew chief Tony Gibson told ESPN.com. “If she can ever figure out how to get her restarts better here, she can hold her position or gain two or three, she will be more successful.”

2015 Prospectus: Patrick had her mentor and first Cup crew chief, Tony Gibson, taken away and shifted to the same role with Kurt Busch’s team late in the 2014 season. Busch’s crew chief, Daniel Knost, served the last three races of 2014 with Patrick (finishes of 36th at Texas, 22nd at Phoenix and 18th at Homestead) in what was initially termed an interim position. There’s been no change since then, so as we prepare to enter 2015, it’s unclear if Knost will remain as Patrick’s crew chief or if someone else will replace him before the start of the season. At this stage, it would seem likely to let Knost remain in the position and see how he and Patrick work together over the course of a full season. Also at this stage, there’s been no announcement of any significant changes in her pit crew, so it’s likely her 2014 crew will return intact in 2015. From a realistic standpoint, Patrick should continue to show improvement in 2015, perhaps even finishing in the top-20. She’s still looking for her first career Cup victory, which would put her in the Chase. If that were to happen in 2015, it would elevate her confidence and popularity significantly. “We did improve this year, and I hope we do better in 2015,” she said late in the 2014 season. “(I’m) looking forward to next year.”

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