Did You Notice? … Danica Patrick’s disproportionate amount of bad luck? Some have been critical of Patrick’s attitude in recent weeks, from her Kansas post-race comments to the well-publicized Pocono video in which she reacted to fans booing her.
That’s not the only problem she’s had off the track this season. There’s the small matter of primary sponsor Nature’s Bakery filing a lawsuit and ultimately reducing the races on its deal. There’s Stewart-Haas Racing talking options for Patrick as both sides explore what they’ll do beyond 2017. Needless to say, there’s plenty on her plate.
But it’s easy to forget in the midst of all this off-track drama just how much on-track bad luck has caused Patrick frustration. There have been times, like Sunday at Michigan, where her No. 10 Ford has been fast enough for a top-15 finish or even a top 10. But so many times this year she’s been wrong place, wrong time, the innocent victim of a wreck that leaves her steaming inside the garage instead of celebrating.
Let’s take a look at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series DNF leaders through 15 races. It’s no surprise who’s near the top considering the number of hard hits she’s had this year….
2017 Cup Series DNF Leaders
Danica Patrick – 6
Erik Jones – 4
Cole Whitt – 4
Five of those six DNFs for Patrick have been wrecks. Let’s examine each one briefly.
Daytona: After a solid Speedweeks, Patrick finished inside the top 10 in both stages. She was poised for perhaps a top-five effort in the Great American Race when the Big One blew up in front of her. As Jimmie Johnson got turned, Patrick was in the outside line and had no place to go. The season got started on the wrong foot and has never really recovered from there.
Las Vegas: Patrick’s lone mechanical failure came during the final 25 laps at Las Vegas. She’s the only Stewart-Haas Racing car to suffer an engine problem this year.
Talladega: Another Big One, another hard hit for Patrick. Once Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger made contact, Patrick simply got swept up in the mess. A hard hit with the front of her Ford was unpreventable due to the nature of restrictor plate racing.
Kansas: Joey Logano, with a part breaking or a tire failing entering Turn 1, loses control and slams right into Patrick while battling for position. At one of her best tracks, a place where Patrick could have earned a top 10, her Ford becomes a fireball instead. Aric Almirola fractures his T5 vertebrae in the same incident.
Michigan: Patrick, after slowly improving throughout the race, is in position for a top-15 finish down the stretch run. But a slow start by Ryan Blaney bottles up the field, causing contact that pushes the rookie Daniel Suarez right into her. Again, there’s nowhere to go and Patrick takes a hard, driver’s side hit into the inside wall.
Now, every racer experiences bad luck throughout their career. Great drivers remain calm, helping their team through the slump while remaining confident the tables will turn over the long run. But the number of hard hits Patrick has had in the series is clearly disproportionate compared to the average. Consider that Patrick’s teammates have failed to finish a total of four times among them. She’s wrecked out in five races alone.
Being able to avoid that bad luck, especially with a team that was already in sponsorship turmoil, makes a difference. Who knows what happens with Patrick from here, but any rational person can only take so much before frustration starts to overwhelm them.
Did You Notice? … There’s an uptick in road course ringers this weekend? After seeing their numbers decline in recent years, a number of back-end teams on the circuit tapped some right-turn veterans again for Sonoma.
You’ve got Boris Said replacing a beleaguered Jeffrey Earnhardt in the No. 33. Billy Johnson will take a turn behind the wheel of Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43. Alon Day will be making his Cup Series debut for BK Racing’s No. 23.
All of these organizations are in the same boat where making the playoffs is virtually impossible. So why not make a splash with a one-off attempt from a racing expert? While the ringers haven’t done that well in recent years there was a time they were a “must have” for teams who could use them. Ron Fellows, Said and Scott Pruett came close to upset victories throughout the last decade or two only to come up short.
For these teams, they’re battling for 30th at Sonoma with their regular drivers so why not roll the dice? It’s nice to see them take a gamble and the “ringers” come back to Cup once more.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- Kyle Busch is another one of those drivers going through incredibly bad luck. He now has more laps led (743) this season in Cup than during his entire championship year in 2015. Busch won five times in Cup that season; he has yet to win in 2017. But you figure whenever his No. 18 team turns it around, victories are going to come in bunches.
- The more Matt Kenseth gets mentioned as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s possible replacement next year, the more it seems to make sense. Kenseth, 45, came up with Earnhardt and the two battled for Rookie of the Year in 2000. They’ve remained friends all these years and who better to hold the seat and the sponsorship until William Byron is ready to assume the throne? Kenseth doesn’t seem ready to retire quite yet.
- Darrell Wallace Jr. had such a nice top-20 run at Michigan. But losing Sonoma to Johnson seems like a missed opportunity. Suddenly, there’s talk of Almirola back as soon as mid-July, which means Wallace has Daytona, Kentucky and… then what? A four-race audition without a top-15 finish won’t be enough of a splash, I don’t think. The pressure’s on.
- Keep an eye out for Clint Bowyer this weekend. He’s a former Sonoma winner driving the car Tony Stewart took to victory last year. His SHR team is well aware of the opportunity this road course presents.