Danica Patrick ends July by completing best stretch of racing in two years

Daniel McFadin
NBC Sports

For the first five months of the season, almost nothing seemed to go right for Danica Patrick.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, in her fifth full-time season in the Cup Series, recorded seven DNFs through the first 17 races of the year. Six of those were for crashes, and it seemed like each was harder than the last.

And after a particularity violent crash at Kansas that injured Aric Almirola, Patrick voiced frustration at her run of bad luck.

By the time she crashed out of the July 1 race at Daytona, Patrick had one top-10 finish (10th, Dover) – her first in two seasons – and no other finish better than 16th.

Flash forward to Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway – the same track where a Facebook video earlier this year showed her lecturing fans after they booed her for not signing autographs – and Patrick was capping off her best four-race stretch in two seasons.

Patrick drove her No. 10 Ford to a 15th-place finish in the Overton’s 400. It was her fourth straight top-15 finish, a career first for Patrick who has 175 Cup starts since 2012.

The stretch began at Kentucky Speedway, where she also placed 15th. She followed it with a 13th at New Hampshire and an 11th at Indianapolis.

“The Code 3 Associates Ford team did a great job today getting us another top 15,” Patrick said after the race. “We have really gained some consistency over the past few weekends. I think we’re going to put together more top 15s and top 10s this season as long as we can stay out of trouble and finish the race.”

Patrick ended this stretch with an average finish of 13.5. According to Racing Insights, her previous best four-race stretch based off average finish was in March and April 2015. Patrick averaged a finish of 12.8 in races at Auto Club Speedway (19th), Martinsville (seventh), Texas (16th) and Bristol (ninth).

This current streak is also just the third time in her career she’s earned three consecutive top-20 finishes.

But Patrick almost lost out on her chance at a top 15 on the first lap of Sunday’s race.

After starting 22nd, she was one of eight cars counted in a crash in Turn 3. But the No. 10 Ford only suffered minor front end damage. But as teams executed various pit strategies in Stage 1, Patrick found herself in fourth place on Lap 27 before she pitted on Lap 30.

In Stage 2, Patrick spent much of the 50-lap segment running in 11th after restarting from a Lap 70 caution in 13th.

As leaders pitted neat the end of the stage, Patrick moved into third where she finished the stage. It was only the third time Patrick has earned stage points this season. She finished eighth in Stage 1 at Talladega, earning three points. She also finished sixth in her Daytona 500 qualifying race, earning five points.

Now Patrick heads to Watkins Glen International. In four starts at the road course, Patrick’s best finish is 17th in 2015. Last year, she led a season-high 11 laps in the race.

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