May 14, 2014

Danica heeds Harvick’s advice: Smash the gas

Career-best Kansas run may be the start of her trusting herself and her car more

Danica Patrick must be earning some respect.

Because Kevin Harvick thinks she’s doing something right. And if Kevin Harvick thinks you’re doing something right, you’re doing something right.

“Obviously, she’s run well all weekend, qualified well, raced well all night,” he said after Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway, where Patrick recorded her best finish — seventh place — since joining the Sprint Cup series three years ago.

It was the fourth-best finish by a woman in series history.

It did not go unnoticed by Harvick, her first-year teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, or anyone else.

“We talk a lot, and I think for her, it’s just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do,” Harvick said. “There’s a lot of hurdles to overcome for her to make up that experience. I feel like we can help her speed that process up by just telling her some of the things that she should expect and do.”

Patrick is still early in her Cup career, with less than two full seasons’ worth of starts.

But she has not exactly shown herself to be a fast learner in stock cars. She has a reputation for holding a good line in a fast car, but also for perhaps being too careful and avoiding trouble — maybe not digging in as much as she can for track position.

“As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts. That’s probably the biggest thing,” Harvick said. “But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas.

“Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect, and you just have to take what it’ll give you and expect that every time you pit, it’s going to be better. And if it’s not you adjust and move on.”

Stewart-Haas is going to keep giving Patrick good equipment. She is going to keep learning.

The trick for her will be keeping her confidence, even if far more finishes in the 20s roll in than finishes in the top-10.

“This is the kind of stuff that materializes in wins,” she said postrace. “We’ve just got to keep hanging around and doing what we’re doing. I’m just proud of everyone for working really hard and believing in me.”

Confidence? No problem, she said.

“I’ve always believed in myself and with the right situation, a good car, that I can do it,” she said. “It’s little moments, when you drive by Jimmie Johnson on the outside; stuff like that makes me really proud of myself.”

It doesn’t sound like she’s the only one.

Hero nominee

Army veteran John Wayne Walding of Little Elm is in the running to have the Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis named for him. The 32-year-old former Special Forces soldier is one of five finalists to have his name on the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 on July 27.

Fans can vote at until June 2. All five finalists will attend the race.

Walding, 32, lost his lower right leg on duty in 2008 with the 3rd Special Forces Group, with whom he completed tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has since completed Special Forces Sniper school, run the 2009 Boston Marathon in a hand cycle and been awarded the Silver Star, among other honors.

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