Danica searching for momentum
It wasn't quite Chris Bosh quality, but it had potential. And it won a bet.
Danica Patrick was lingering near her No. 10 Chevrolet on the prerace grid at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday, when fellow driver Clint Bowyer apparently dared her to photobomb his impending television interview.
The gregarious Bowyer was explaining how racing had recently become fun for him again, when the moment was lost.
While Patrick's low-speed Whac-A-Mole entry from the bottom of the frame didn't display the polish of the repetition of the Miami Heat's season-long gag, it was easily enough to distract both the interview subject and the interviewer. So in that regard, well struck.
Patrick needed her humor after what was, at times, a trying five-week segment in the marrow of the Cup season.
1. No-mentum: A career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas and fourth-place qualifying spot the next week at Charlotte created the impression of building confidence and expectation of more consistent performance. However, everything seemed to fizzle with an engine failure in the Coca-Cola 600. Patrick has finished no better than 17th in the subsequent five races and is in need of another midsummer beachhead. A return to Daytona International Speedway, the site of her greatest NASCAR achievement -- a pole and eighth-place finish in the 2013 Daytona 500 -- could be it.
2. Qualified un-success: Patrick produced three of her top-four Sprint Cup qualifying performances in succession in May, starting seventh at Talladega, ninth at Kansas and fourth at Charlotte. A new group-qualifying format seemed either to her liking or suited to her team's capabilities, which was a major boon for the team. Crew chief Tony Gibson's main preseason objective was to improve starting positions and reduce the amount of traffic with which she would contend to begin races. It was happening. But it stopped. Patrick didn't crack the top 15 starting spots in four consecutive races after the Charlotte start but did commence 10th at Kentucky. Her best finish in the stretch, though, 17th at Michigan, came from a 27th-place start, which was one place off her worst start in the span.
3. Needle-mover: It wasn't actually revelatory or even new news when Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas suggested recently that Patrick would be an attention-garnering addition to his planned Formula One team. Of course, she would. But Haas has also asserted twice that NASCAR's lineup is already fully occupied. Still, even with Haas saying in an NBC Sports Network interview "that's kind of a long shot," and Patrick attempting to defuse the story, speculation was made for another global news cycle. Few drivers can generate such worldwide buzz, especially on a retread tidbit.
4. Rookie of the Year redux: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. doesn't have to re-certify his 2013 award as the top member of the Sprint Cup newcomer class, but his only competitor for the honor is keeping up so far this season. Through 17 races, Patrick has one top-10 and is 28th in the driver standings, just 17 points behind Stenhouse, who has a top-5 and three top-10s.
5. Double down: Watching teammate Kurt Busch become the first in a decade to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day was interesting, intriguing but apparently not inspiring. Two years after expressing a desire to undertake her favorite race again after leaving the IndyCar series, Patrick says her focus is solely on NASCAR. "There's no doubt it would be fun. I always knew it would be fun," she said. "But the job is here."