Danica Patrick: 2014 was a success to build upon for ’15

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While she finished 28th in the Sprint Cup standings, one spot lower than she did in her rookie season in 2013, Danica Patrick considers her sophomore season in 2014 a success of sorts.

During Tuesday’s appearance on the annual NASCAR Media Tour, Patrick slightly bristled when a reporter said 2014 was a sub-par season for both her and teammate Kurt Busch.

“I think sub-par is a matter of opinion,” Patrick said. “I think in my second year in the Cup series, there were certain things I wanted to work on and things we wanted to work on as a group.

“I feel there was drastic improvement. Although the overall championship position didn’t really show that, there was a lot of improvements in areas we wanted to. So, I consider that a success.”

Despite sliding in the rankings, Patrick improved her average finish (22.3 from 30.1) and finish (23.7 from 26.1) and also placed a career-best sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September (after a seventh at Kansas Speedway in May).

Patrick had been mentored the past two Sprint Cup seasons by veteran crew chief Tony Gibson.

But in a swap with three races remaining last season, Gibson became Busch’s crew chief, and Daniel Knost, Busch’s first-year crew chief, was switched to oversee Patrick’s team and crew.

Patrick didn’t finish higher than 18th in the final three races with Knost, whose interim tag was removed after the season.

“Moving forward with Daniel brings up new possibilities,” Patrick said. “With a new person, there’s new perspectives and new ways of getting things done. We’re going to be working hard to put all of our best ideas together and stay positive and make our goals happen.”

And while Gibson was moved to Busch’s Chevrolet, he’s still available for advice if Patrick needs him. But Patrick believes she and Knost can build as strong a bond as she had with Gibson.

“It’ll be kind of picking up where I left off with Tony Gibson and his guys that taught me so much,” Patrick said. “They really helped me get much further to the front, qualifying much better and running much better.

“I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of a learning curve (with Knost), but I think we can overcome that sooner rather than later. … I’m really excited because of what was happening last year and the improvements made. And also to develop better relationships, obviously, with a new crew chief and a new group.

“We need to get to know each other sooner than later, so I’ll be putting a lot of hard work into getting our communications going as quickly as possible.”

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An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

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IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”