5 Lessons: Danica Is Learning, Improving

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Jimmie Johnson Is New Texas King

Entering the Duck Commander 500, Jimmie Johnson had won four races at Texas, including three of the past five at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track. But all of the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s wins here had come in the fall. That’s not the case anymore, however. With his triumph on Saturday night, the six-time Sprint Cup champion finally unlocked the door to Victory Lane in the spring race while making it four wins overall in the past six Texas races. That’s the essence of domination — at a track that, for the longest time, wasn’t among Johnson’s best. Johnson’s latest Texas triumph was a convincing one, too, as he led a race-high 128 laps.

 

Harvick Remains Driver To Beat

While Kevin Harvick fell short of winning Saturday night at Texas, finishing second to Jimmie Johnson, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion continues to be by far and away the most impressive driver of the 2015 season. Harvick has finished first or second in six of the season’s first seven races, and in the one race he didn’t come home in the top two – Martinsville — he was a solid eighth. Harvick has led more than 35 percent of all laps run in Sprint Cup competition this season and continues to sit comfortably atop the points standings – a place he’s been since the season’s second race.

 

Danica Patrick Is Improving

Although her numbers from 2015 won’t exactly “wow” most casual observers, Danica Patrick continues to make steady progress from her first two Sprint Cup seasons, including last season when she recorded three top-10 results but finished a disappointing 28th in the standings. With seven races in the books this year, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is 17th in the standings – a significant improvement from this point in 2014 when she was mired down in 29th in the standings. Patrick’s 16th-place finish at Texas was her fourth top 20 in seven starts this season. Again, not numbers to write home about, but nothing to sneeze at, either.

 

David Ragan Is A Super-Sub

In six races since taking over for injured Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, David Ragan has climbed all the way to 10th in the standings. While the affable 29-year-old from Unadilla, Georgia has just one top-10 finish since jumping in Busch’s car – a fifth-place finish at Martinsville Speedway on March 29 – he has been steady and consistent while managing not to tear up race cars or make enemies. And that’s exactly what the No. 18 team and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization needs from Ragan as Busch continues to heal from his wreck at Daytona in the season-opening XFINITY Series race.

 

Sometimes It Pays To Gamble

In most cases, four fresh tires are king at Texas Motor Speedway. But on Saturday night, three drivers – Jamie McMurray (sixth), Jeff Gordon (seventh) and Martin Truex Jr. (ninth) – all used a two-tire strategy during the final round of pit stops to gain critical track position, which ultimately resulted in each man finishing better than he otherwise would have. Oh, sure, four tires ultimately won out, but the decision to go for two under the race’s final caution at least put these three drivers in contention for the win on a night when none of them had cars really capable of getting to Victory Lane.

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