Danica stymied at Brickyard again

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway was kind to Danica Patrick in IndyCar but not so much in her NASCAR races there.

It began with a Sprint Cup race at one of Danica Patrick's favorite racetracks. It ended with one, too.

That's not to suggest July produced any continuity.

Patrick's latest return to the site of her greatest Sprint Cup accomplishment, a pole and eighth-place finish in the 2013 Daytona 500, yielded another dog-ear moment on Independence Day weekend as she avoided several mass wrecks to finish eighth again in a rain-shortened event.

But Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where she started and finished fourth in the Indianapolis 500, sparking a national phenomenon as a rookie in 2005, was a backdrop for frustration again -- especially since her run was giving every indication of becoming her best there in three stock car races.

A broken rear gear -- which sent smoke billowing from the No. 10 Chevrolet -- after a Lap 69 pit stop ruined it all, however, relegating her to a 42nd-place finish and destroying what could have been a major gust of momentum heading into August.

"We looked at everything, and it looks like the launch was fine," Patrick said. "It's just one of those things. It's too bad, and these things never happen when you're having a bad day. We were having a good day.

"It's disappointing, and the GoDaddy guys built me a really good car. Hendrick gave me great horsepower. We were the fastest car out there at times. We qualified better and had a good car for the race; it just didn't end the way we wanted it to. The good thing is, I get to come back to Indy, and that makes me happy."

Five observations

1. The 'W' word: Crew chief Tony Gibson has allowed himself to ponder victory out loud, speaking volumes about the progress he thinks Patrick and her team have made. Crucial now, he said, is assuring every element -- driver, car, strategy, pit crew among them -- is ready to exploit an opportunity such as the one Gibson thinks the team wasted in a career-best seventh-place finish at Kansas. Patrick, too, considers the possibility, but she is outwardly more guarded.

"I think a win is going to be pretty tough, but I think a win is realistic," she said. "If we look back to the best race of the year, which was Kansas, as far as regular racetracks go, I mean, things go a little bit differently and I could have won that race. ... If it presents itself and I'm in a position to win, I feel perfectly ready."

2. Less Danica: Those critical of the exposure Patrick generates for herself and sponsors most often harp on the fact that her on-track performance is often not proportionate with that of lower-profile competitors who win more races or championships. Those critics -- although naive to think marketing has anything to do with trophies -- likely were overjoyed by the news from Joyce Julius & Associates, which tracks sponsor value by television exposure during races. The firm reported that Patrick had been mentioned 33 percent less in live broadcasts and replays this season than rookie Kyle Larson, and she wasn't in the top 10 of Cup drivers in terms of mentions.

3. Indy's mean: Patrick has six top-10 finishes (third, fourth, sixth, eighth twice and 10th) in seven Indianapolis 500 starts. Good times there remain on hold in NASCAR, though. In 2012, she spurred an accident with Reed Sorenson tussling for 15th place early in a Nationwide race there and finished 35th. In two Cup starts, she has finished 30th and 42nd. Oddly, her two worst finishes of 2014 have come at her favorite tracks: Daytona (40th in the Daytona 500) and Indianapolis.

4. A win's a win: Patrick couldn't bring home the best female athlete award at the Kids' Choice Sports Awards, but her one-shoulder white dress took her to the checkered flag as fans voted her best-dressed last week at the ESPYS. Patrick received 47.9 percent of the vote, defeating NHRA driver Courtney Force (27.3) and tennis professional Maria Sharapova (7.5).

5. The gift that keeps on giving: Patrick has benefited this season from an experienced group of teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing, including three-time champion Tony Stewart and 2004 titlist Kurt Busch, but her teammate so far without a Cup title has proved to be her sage.

"Kevin [Harvick] is probably someone that's helped the most," she said. "He's just able to put things in terms and ways and words that I understand and I'm able to use. Kurt has been helpful, as well, but Kevin the most, and it helps.

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