09/23 2015

Danica Patrick focused on consistency, not wins during the Chase…(and RR-AZ asks…who doesn’t want to be 23rd, at anything?)

JOLIET, Ill. — Danica Patrick’s well-used coffee mug underscored her Chicago sensibility. There was the iconic skyline imprinted over the black surface, theSears Tower, she noted, no matter if the structure has been rebranded as the Willis. And conspicuous by its absence over on the right, no Trump Tower.

The 33-year-old entered the first race of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday as an outsider in a state where she grew up and outside a city where she maintains a trendy downtown residence. In a city of options and distractions — with the Bears, Cubs, and a PGA event being held this weekend — Patrick’s presence would have added to the profile of NASCAR’s playoff opener locally even though series officials were pleased Chicagoland Speedway nearly sold out the roughly 55,000 grandstand seats. Her impact nationally would be have been even greater.

But completing her third full-time year at NASCAR’s highest level, Patrick isn’t there yet. She seemed to take little consolation in that she would set a career-best points finish if able to hold onto her current position for another nine weeks. She gained a spot to 23rd with a 26th-place finish on Sunday. She was 13th in the standings after finishing ninth at Bristol this spring in what was her second top 10 in three weeks. But Patrick hasn’t finished better than 15th since. Her top points finish was 27th as a rookie in 2013.

“I mean, best points position, but not by much and that is not necessarily in a range I want to be in,” she told USA TODAY Sports. “But until the summer stretch we were top 20 and we were kind of pacing like we were right around points with Greg (Biffle) and (Chase qualifier) Clint (Bowyer) and Kyle (Larson) and while some of those didn’t make it, if things had gone the other direction, it would have been a position we would have been in and it would have been awesome.”