Murto: Danica seeks better luck

Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is not having the 2014 her fans hoped she would have.

The popular driver was caught up in a mid-race accident not of her making midway through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix last weekend and finished a disappointing 36th.

Patrick, who claims to have had a strong car but lacked track position, was 24th and one lap down on lap 172 when she got tangled up in turn one with Justin Allgaier and Travis Kvapil. Her car sustained damage to the left front and left rear, but according to a news release the GoDaddy crew was able to do a “quick fix” in order to get her out on track without losing a lap and dropping only to 27th.

Quick fixes don’t always do the trick, though. Only 13 laps later, the damaged left rear fender ended up rubbing through her tire, she spun in turn three, and brought out another caution. This time the GoDaddy crew was forced to do extensive repairs (some would say the repairs that should have been done in the first place), and Patrick went four laps down and restarted in 39th.

“It’s tough,” Patrick said. “That’s two weeks in a row we’ve had good cars and nothing to show for it. The car was good all day, we just needed track position. I’m starting to think if we didn’t have bad luck, we’d have no luck at all. The GoDaddy guys built me a great car for the second week in a row. I hate it for them, and I hate it for GoDaddy. This is obviously an important race for them. Hopefully things turn around in Las Vegas.”

The week before, Patrick was involved in another accident not of her making at the 56th Daytona 500 and finished 40th. She may have been on her way to a top-10 run at Daytona, slowly and smartly picking her way to the front as the day went on.

Probably the toughest thing for Patrick is that her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix. And at both Daytona and Phoenix, her teammates appeared to show more strength than she did on the track.

All of this happens with the backdrop of Richard Petty’s comments prior to the season, in which he stated that the only way Patrick could win a NASCAR Cup race would be if all the other competitors stayed home. She brushed it off, but team owner Tony Stewart challenged Petty to a one-on-one race against Patrick. Virginia’s Franklin County Speedway went public with its offer to host the event, and Petty accepted. There’s no word from Patrick, and frankly, most agree the match race should never happen.

But it really is time for Danica Patrick to have some better luck. Her mediocre finishes all last year can’t be attributed to bad luck; certainly she’s got the same quality equipment as her teammates. She can’t continue to finish between 25th and 30th or worse every week; it’s time to run in the top 15 or top 10 consistently. If Patrick is going to survive more than another year or two in this sport, she needs to show some progress.

Hagerstown Speedway made progress as the opening event on the 2014 schedule, the 29th Annual Race-A-Rama car show at the Valley Mall, began despite the snow. More than 20 race cars from different divisions were moved into the mall Sunday evening and will remain until Saturday.

Racing was to get underway this Sunday, but our relentless winter weather had other ideas. Moving ahead to March 15, with suitable conditions, the speedway will get underway featuring Late Models, Late Model Sportsman, Pure Stocks, Hobby Stocks, and Four Cylinders. The program starts at 5 p.m. with warm-ups starting a half-hour earlier.

I don’t know if I wouldn’t have changed the starting time to earlier in the day given this winter weather. Cold temperatures can often keep your crowd from turning out, and this year we’ve had more than our share of cold. But promoters take the risk, and hopefully reap the rewards.

The latest news, results, photos, schedule or rule changes can be found at www.hagerstownspeedway.com. Also check the website for any weather delays or cancellations, or contact the speedway office at 301-582-0640.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.