Is female driver Danica Patrick getting better?

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick didn’t make the Chase this season. The driver is moving along through the Chase races trying to improve her stats over last year and still searching for a Sprint Cup Series win. So far this season the driver, often associated with her Go-Daddy sponsor and commercials, has seemed to improve even though the driver averages remain about the same over last year.

Is it just an illusion; or has Danica seemed to be in the mix as a real contender over the last several races in 2014? Last season Danica had an average finishing position of 26.1. Her first season, which was part time in Sprint Cup in 2012, saw an average finish of 28.3 and this year things are looking better.

Heading into Dover for the third race of the Chase Danica has an average finish of 23.4. Patrick says she's battling for good finishes and hopes to stay out of the way of Chase drivers... unless she in her own battle for position.

"People (in the Chase) get way more fired up if you don't cooperate and move quickly out of their way. So let's hope I don't have to be in that position," Patrick said. "Let's hope I am running for great spots on track, and it's only understandable I run hard for them."

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It’s a small improvement but it is still an indication of a driver that’s getting better. The averages don’t seem like much but many NASCAR race fans have noticed the Green No. 10 car piloted by Danica in the hunt during a growing number of races.

One such fan is Matt Singleton of South Carolina who says that his respect for Patrick has increased over the season. I met Matt recently during a racing fan event and we talked about Danica and other drivers.

“At first I didn’t really like her, I didn’t hate her, but felt like she didn’t pay her dues,” Sims said. “But she’s getting better – I’ve noticed that she runs towards the front a bunch during the race more this year and that I respect. But seems like she slides back during the final laps. She’s got a pole, and a sixth place finish and a couple of top-tens. So she getting to be a good driver.”

IndyCar and NASCAR

One of the things fans often come back to in a conversation about Danica Patrick is her ties to open wheel racing and IndyCar. For some reason select fans still see her as an open wheel driver invading a stock car world. At one time Singleton was one of those fans. The Connection to open wheel racing is one that Danica can’t seem to shake like Tony Stewart have done during their careers.

“Moving over from Indy seemed like a promotional stunt,”Singleton said. “At the time I didn’t like it because I felt that maybe a younger stock car driver was passed over. Now I’ve realized that the economy was so bad back then that a move was needed for her. And she’s brought a big sponsor to NASCAR. I think she’ll improve with more seat time in a stock car.”

Comparing the Numbers

Singleton is right about one thing. Danica did make the move to NASCAR from open wheel racing in part due to sponsorships. You can ask around the garage, no driver makes any move unless a sponsor is consulted or on-board. That’s the nature of the beast in a sponsor driven sport.

What Singleton may have missed is that Danica has more seat time in a stock-car than in an IndyCar. According to Racing Reference she amassed 115 races in the IndyCar series. Since then she has over 140 races in stock cars. This includes 74 (prior to Dover) in the Sprint Cup Series, 61 races in Nationwide, two races in ARCA and K&N as well as a handful of starts in races such as the Daytona qualifying runs.

Every season the green Go-Daddy No. 10 car driven by Danica Patrick seems ever so closer to the front. Who knows, she may get that first win this season in order to play the spoiler for Chase drivers or her first win may come next year. Either way, it’s probably a given that with her talent and quality equipment she’s sure to make the drive to Victory Lane.

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