DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- OK, Danica Patrick sheepishly admitted Wednesday, the task of several-day, single car test runs can get monotonous. But with all eyes on her stock car progress, NASCAR's high-wattage Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate is more than willing to log as many test laps as she can.
Patrick and eight other Cup drivers took to the Daytona International Speedway high banks this week for a Goodyear tire test of the new Generation-6 cars in advance of the July 6 Coke Zero 400 at the track.
No matter how much the extra track time means to an already busy schedule, Patrick is convinced it will pay off. And already has.
"It's a little boring at Daytona at least as far as single car runs,'' Patrick said Wednesday during a lunch break at the test. "But I learned this from my IndyCar days at Indianapolis. They put all the down force on the car and made it easy to drive -- especially the first couple years I was there -- and I always knew, while it does feel easy, you still have to respect the machine and the speed and the track and know that something could still go wrong and you need to be ready.
"But anytime there's a test available, we're going,'' Patrick explained. "Anytime I'm able to, I do, although I still have a lot of stuff to do outside the car.
"Whenever you test, if you don't learn what's better you learn what's worse, which is sometimes just as helpful. I felt like we had a really good test at Little Rock (N.C.) and brought that set-up to Martinsville (Va.) and we had a really good car in the race. That's what we worked on. It reminds you to stay and work it out."
Unfortunately for Patrick, though testing at Rockingham's Little Rock netted an impressive performance and a good result -- a 12th place debut -- she and her entire Stewart-Haas Racing team has struggled elsewhere.
Patrick enters Sunday's STP 400 at Kansas Speedway ranked 26th in points. Except for an eighth place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 -- where she made history as the first woman pole-sitter -- her Martinsville performance has been a rare highlight.
Her teammates haven't fared much better. Ryan Newman leads the trio in the Sprint Cup Series championship standings (16th place) and he's the only one with a top-five finish (fifth place at Daytona).
Team owner-driver Tony Stewart is 22nd in points with no top-fives and only a single top-10 (eighth place at Phoenix). The three-time Cup champion has two wins at Kansas in 2006 and 2009, but has finishes of 11th and 21st at the other two 1.5-mile tracks the series has visited this season.
So while Patrick's slow start has been both disappointing and aggravating, it's endemic of the whole organization right now.
Newman paced the team last week at the fast Texas 1.5-miler with a very hard-earned 10th place finish. At one point all three cars were a lap down to the leaders. Stewart finished 21st in the No. 14 Chevrolet and Patrick was 28th in the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevy. This will mark the first time the series has back-to-back races at the 1.5-mile circuits.
"I think there's a certain amount of healthy frustration that gets people motivated and gets people working,'' Patrick allowed. "But there was no need for me at Texas to drive it home how uncomfortable and miserable it was to drive a car that was either loose in, loose off or so tight in the middle you couldn't do anything and ?. at some point in time with the frustration you don't need to show it anymore.
"I think as a team we're struggling,'' Patrick said. "Tony and I had the same comments from Texas about how the car felt and... we need to work it out, go through a process of elimination what it could be... just start crossing things off the list that are not the issue or go testing to try to work on some platforms to see what we need to do to make the car faster and feel better. I think we're lacking speed and comfort out there."
The Kansas 1.5-mile oval was repaved last year resulting in super speed in the first race on the new surface last October. The entire field bettered the previous track record.
Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle, who were also testing at Daytona this week, said to expect more of the same with this new car at Kansas thanks to the new pavement and different aerodynamic characteristics of the Gen-6 car.
Kyle Busch won the pole last week at Texas with a track record speed. Patrick's Daytona 500 pole-winning mark was among the fastest in the last 20 years.
"Kansas will be extremely fast without a doubt,'' McMurray said without hesitation. "At Texas we had really good weather, cool temperatures which made the track have a lot of grip. I know the Roush cars did a team test at Kansas and I quizzed them a bit and they said the track had a crazy amount of grip. It's supposed to be cold again this weekend so I expect to see track records again this week.''
Biffle cautioned that the speed of the car isn't necessarily having a direct effect on the quality of the racing.
"This car has several hundred pounds more down force and a lot more grip which makes speed,'' Biffle said. "The better racing is coming from the car being better handling, better mechanical grip. The two are sorta related, but not really.
"I like the car and feel like there's still a ton to learn, we're going to be learning for the next year. We'll continue to learn and discover things.
"There will be times when we bump up against the speed where we'll wonder if we're getting too fast at some places. But at Texas and other tracks like it, it's not an issue. This weekend you can go fast the whole time.''
"It's kind of odd because you associate fast with good racing and a lot of times that's not the case, it's about good grip and a speed you can go side-by-side.''
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