Danica Continues to Show Big Gains

By Jerry Bonkowski

I KNOW I shouldn’t say it – because it could ultimately wind up being a jinx.

But I can’t help myself.

I told you so.

There, I said it – something I’ve been preaching since before the season – that Danica Patrick was going to have a break-through season in 2015.

People sent me emails, called me on the radio and told me I was crazy.

While others predicted she’d have her best success on either 1.5-mile tracks or superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, I believed her best showings – even a potential win – would come on a short track like Bristol or Martinsville or Richmond.

After Sunday’s Food City 500 In Support Of Steve Byrnes at Bristol Motor Speedway, I’m going to do a little gloating.

After all, Patrick finished ninth at BMS, her second-best showing of the season, coming just two weeks after she finished seventh at Martinsville Speedway.

That’s right, two top-10 finishes in her last three races, both on short tracks.

And with Saturday’s race at Richmond International Raceway, do I dare predict Patrick will come away from that ¾-mile bullring with yet another top 10 finish – or perhaps a top-five finish – or maybe even her first career Sprint Cup win?

Hard as it may seem for some to believe, Patrick is now 13th in the point standings, the second-highest she’s ever ranked in her career (the previous ranking was seventh after her eight-place finish in the 2013 season-opening Daytona 500).

And let me point out that she’s just three positions – and 15 points – out of the top 10.

But there’s more:

* Patrick set a NASCAR Sprint Cup record at Bristol for most career top 10 finishes by a female driver (6).

* Her race-to-race finishing average is now up to 17.6.

* She’s higher in the standings than Carl Edwards (15th), Ryan Newman (16), Clint Bowyer (17), Greg Biffle (20), and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch (22) and Tony Stewart (28).

* With her two top 10 finishes in the first eight races, Patrick is now on pace for between 8 and 10 top-10 finishes by season’s end.

Oh, might I add that if the Chase for the Sprint Cup were to start today, she’d be in it (for the first time) on points.

I’m not saying Patrick made her performance at Bristol look like a Sunday ride in the country. Not with three rain delays, her being caught up in two wrecks not of her doing and numerous fender-banging moments with other drivers.

“We came out with a top 10 in the GoDaddy car,” she said with pride. “It looks terrible (due to the various damage she picked up in the race). I had to walk around it just to see what it looked like, but it’s Bristol, baby.”

Patrick then added, “I promise you it wasn’t easy out there. It was a struggle of a weekend, but by all means you take these weekends because they tell you that you have a great weekend.’

Based upon her pre-race expectations, even Patrick appeared somewhat surprised she did so well.

“I’ve got to tell you I did not think (she’d get a top 10),” Patrick said. “I was hoping for a top 20.”

But after Bristol, maybe Patrick will start setting her goals and expectations a lot higher.

And maybe her doubters will finally start doing the same.

Because with what she showed Sunday, I’m going to predict we’ll see a lot more success going forward for Patrick.

Mark my word.

I told you so once. Now I’m telling you so again. You might want to listen this time.

Jerry Bonkowski writes for NASCAR Talk at NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.