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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Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.