FORT WORTH, Texas -- Danica Patrick has had a fairly frustrating start to the 2016 season. Even her best finish of the year was disappointing considering what could have been.
After an accident ruined her Daytona 500, Patrick had another in the fifth race of the year at Auto Club Speedway in California, dropping her to 29th in the standings. She improved three spots with a season-best 16th Sunday at Martinsville in a race in which she flirted with a top-10 run with 100 laps remaining.
"It's not been a great start to the year," Patrick said Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway, the site for Saturday night's Duck Commander 500. "When there's good finishes that slip where it very easily could have been a top-10, it's disappointing. It's a long, long season."
The key to improvement is starting the weekend better right off the truck, Patrick said, especially at 1.5-mile tracks such as TMS.
"The frustration, it's like a grade-point average -- you start off the year with an 'F', and it seems like it takes you all year to get back to an 'A' again," Patrick said. "You spend the whole year feeling like you're down and out or behind.
"You just have to fight it out and see where you end up in the end. But I would much rather be in a position where I was running really well and didn't get the finish than running terrible and grabbed a finish. It means there is so much potential later on for good results.
The frustration boiled over two races ago in California when she was hooked by Kasey Kahne and slammed into the wall. Patrick walked up the apron of the track to hold her hands out, palms up, when Kahne drove by -- and NASCAR promptly fined her $20,000 for walking on the apron or track toward moving cars.
"I understand NASCAR has to do whatever they can to protect their drivers and making sure that we don't put ourselves in harm's way," Patrick said. "Did I feel like I was in danger? Absolutely not. It's my own body. I don't want to put my body in danger at all.
"But then you start working into gray areas of, well, what's too close and what's not close? So I get their position. But some of the most exciting throwback videos you see of NASCAR is of drivers getting all rowdy and getting mad. ... You can't do things that completely eliminate the spirit of the sport."
The rule was instituted after Tony Stewart accidentally struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. in a sprint-car race in August 2014. Ward was out on the track, and Stewart has said he didn't see Ward until just before his car struck the 20-year-old.
Patrick's fine was the same as the one issued last year to Trevor Bayne, who crossed the track after an accident just to get to the infield before safety workers got to him.
"I get that it's 2016, and we can get smarter and better, and there are certain things that cross the line, and I guess that they deemed that I did," Patrick said. "When I did it, it wasn't like I thought, 'I don't care if I get fined, I'm going to walk out [there].'
"It literally didn't enter my mind. So I think that's the challenge. ... When I did that, I was just really giving the universal 'WTF' sign to him like, 'I can't believe you just did that to me.'"
Patrick said she remains friends with Kahne, but obviously she wasn't happy about that accident.
"If you were to pick the way you would want to wreck someone in the most dangerous way, that would be it -- 200 miles an hour on the straightaway, you would [hit them in the] right rear," Patrick said.
Patrick spoke Thursday after one of her car sponsors, TaxAct, added Brian Vickers to its stable for the weekend to promote free tax returns for military personnel.
"That is a great sign," Patrick said. "It means the program is working, and at the same time, they are giving back.