CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Danica Patrick is feeling more encouraged about her progress in NASCAR than ever before, in large part to stronger runs and an evolving rapport with her crew chief.
Patrick heads this weekend to Talladega Superspeedway with two top-10 finishes through nine races, after a total of three last season. She's also ranked 16th in the Sprint Cup standings.
The results are likely more than most expected when Stewart-Haas Racing last season made a late crew chief swap with Patrick and teammate Kurt Busch. Moved to the No. 10 Chevrolet was Daniel Knost, who relies on an engineering background that has suited Patrick's style in the past.
She said the progress the two have made has made her "excited about the potential Daniel and I have."
"The relationship is so new, and it can take so much time to build anything," Patrick said Wednesday. "But I heard a story recently about Jeff Gordon and his crew chief, and how he got to a point after a few years where they were finally on the same page. If a well-established driver needed time, that has me encouraged."
She should be encouraged as the series shifts to Talladega, one of the few races on the schedule in which almost anyone can win. Patrick has led laps in the last two trips to the Alabama track, and she was in contention late in October before fading to 19th.
Patrick isn't dismissing the opportunity she has this Sunday.
"The cool thing about superspeedways is that anybody can win," she said. "It's a toss-up, what's going to happen. That's why it's fun for me, because somebody like me has a chance."
DILLON-MICHIGAN: Ty Dillon will run the Sprint Cup Series race in June at Michigan International Speedway.
Richard Childress Racing has secured sponsorship for the No. 33 Chevrolet from Pfizer Inc., which will use its Nexium brand on the car.
In conjunction with the sponsorship of Dillon, Nexium 24HR will feature racing-themed displays at Walmart that will give shoppers an opportunity to win a chance to be an honorary crew member and to meet team owner Richard Childress.
Dillon is the current Xfinity Series points leader. He's run three career Sprint Cup races, including a 28th-place finish in his Daytona 500 debut this February.
SCHRADER KEEPS WINNING: Ken Schrader continues to break records behind the wheel, and added another mark with his ARCA Series victory at Salem Speedway last weekend.
Schrader was already the oldest ARCA winner in history by virtue of his 2013 win at age 58 at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. On Sunday, he broke that mark by winning just one month shy of his 60th birthday.
"It had been so long since we won one here, I forgot what it feels like — it feels good, I'll tell you that," Schrader said.
The win on Salem's high-banked half-mile was his first in 16 years. He now has 18 career ARCA wins in 75 starts.
ENFINGER'S STREAK SNAPPED: Grant Enfinger's ARCA Series winning streak has been stopped, but he's still on a roll.
Enfinger this year became the first driver in series history to win each of the first three races of the season two consecutive seasons. His bid to make it four straight ended last weekend at Salem Speedway, but he now heads to Talladega Superspeedway for this Friday's International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200.
Enginger, who holds the ARCA Series points lead and has 10 wins in the last 27 races, is an Alabama native who got hooked on racing through Talladega.
"Talladega is what got me into racing. My dad would take me to Talladega every year, usually twice a year," he said. "I can remember being there in the middle of summer when it felt like 120 degrees — but I didn't care, it was Talladega and there was nothing bigger and better in my book. That's how the fire starting burning inside for me."