As the summer stretch of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races gets underway, the competition on-track is heating up. The series hits the midpoint of the regular season with this weekend’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. There are just 13 races left to decide the 16-driver field for the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship and, as Glenn Frey noted in his 1984 hit song, “The Heat is On,” The pressure’s high, just to stay alive, ’cause the heat is on.
Danica Patrick and the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) were ranked inside the top-16 for several weeks earlier this season. After earning a ninth-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in April, Patrick was ranked as high as 13th in the driver point standings. But, four back-to-back finishes of 21st or worse dropped Patrick to 18th in the standings and 20 points out of the top-16. While Patrick remains 18th heading into Sunday’s race at Pocono, she was able to close the gap on the top-16 last weekend with a hard-fought 15th-place finish after battling handling issues, damage and a speeding penalty.
As Patrick continues to experience the best season of her Sprint Cup career, the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS team must focus on earning more top-10 runs like it scored at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Bristol earlier this year and continue to turn challenging days like the one at Dover into top-15 finishes.
Entering the weekend at Pocono, Patrick looks to improve upon her previous finishes at the 2.5-mile track. In four prior Sprint Cup starts at Pocono, Patrick’s best finish is a 20th-place effort she earned in August 2013. To stay in the hunt for the 2015 Chase field, Patrick will need every point she can get, so a strong finish this weekend is a must.
The heat is on.
“It’s a neat place, definitely a unique track,” Danica said. “It’s still a place I don’t have a ton of experience at. It’s just an odd place to set the car up because the corners are so different. If you are really good in turn one, then maybe two and three are a little off. Or if you’re good in three, maybe one and two are different. I will say that the straightaway is enormous. There’s a lot of distance between turns three and one.”
“I am ready for this summer season,” she added. “Pocono and Michigan are always fun, and I actually really like going to New Hampshire. It’s a fun stretch of races and it’s nice that the weather is good. Hopefully we can continue to run well and continue to improve.”
Daniel Knost, crew chief for Danica’s No. 10 Chevrolet, described a technique for handling the unique layout. “First, I think you have to bring a lot of horsepower to Pocono just because of the long straightaway. So it’s really a showdown amongst engine builders, in my opinion. There’s a durability challenge with the transmission because you’ll be shifting where you don’t normally shift, so you have to have your transmission right to where you can continue to do that all day.”
Knost also described that tricky layout at the Pennyslvania track. “Pocono has three corners that are very different,” he said. “Turn one is the longest corner with the most turning, it’s the most vertical and you carry the most speed into it. Turn two is flat and squared off, and then, turn three is the slowest corner. It’s very sweeping, very flat, and it sets up a very long straightaway. To me, the key at Pocono is how you get from the entry of turn three to the exit of turn one and then still be good through turn two.”