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Timing is everything. And it always seems like timing is never just right for Danica Patrick.
Just when it looked like things were starting to go well for Patrick, it was announced this week that GoDaddy would be leaving as the primary sponsor for Patrick and her No.10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet following the 2015 season.
On one hand, it makes sense for GoDaddy if they want to move away from NASCAR and take their business in a different direction. It isn’t like they are leaving Patrick and going to another driver. But on the other hand, the timing of it comes as a bit of a surprise. To me, anyway.
Patrick is nine races into what could possibly be her best season yet in her third year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. After finishing 27th and 28th in points in her first two seasons, the 33-year-old driver is now 16th in the standings and would be just two points out of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup should the Chase start this week.
She has been able to vault herself into Chase conversation because of two top-10 finishes in her last four races, one of the best stretches of her three-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. It isn’t just about finishing in the top-10 either. Patrick has also run in the top-20 in five of the nine races, which would put her on pace for 20 top-20 finishes this season, six more than last year.
In the nine races this season, Patrick has finished on the lead lap in six of them, a clip of 66.7%. In her initial two seasons, the best percentage of lead lap finishes came last year when she came to the finish line on the same lap as the winner in 19 of 36 races (52.7). In her first full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick finished on the lead lap in just 12 of the 36 races.
One of the reasons I have noticed that seems to contribute to her higher finishes and more lead lap finishes is that she has been less aggressive than in the first year and a half of her Sprint Cup Series career. By that, I don’t mean that she isn’t racing hard or isn’t trying to pass cars and race for position. What it means is that she has learned when to drive defensively and when to go on the offensive.
There have been numerous times this season when a wreck happened in front of her and she was able to navigate her way through without any damage. In the past, she would have put her nose down in and tried to push her way through, which would normally lead to her being involved in the wreck.
This improvement for Patrick actually began in the last part of 2014, as she finished in the top-20 in seven of the final 12 races and also finished on the lead lap in eight of those races. Included in that stretch was one of her two top-10 finishes when she came in a career-best 6th at Atlanta. So over her last 21 races, Patrick has 14 lead lap finishes and has finished in the top-20 12 times, with three top-10s.
Those are the kind of numbers that should give fans hope that Patrick can become a true contender to at least make the Chase. And also why it makes it curious that GoDaddy would pick now to announce they will not be returning after this season as her primary sponsor. One positive is that if she continues on a positive trajectory, it might be easier for her to obtain another full-time sponsor for 2016.
After all, I have said before that if Danica Patrick can add on-track success to the off-track notoriety she brings, she could be an unstoppable force in NASCAR.