CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Danica Patrick has shown steady improvement over the last month, notching four consecutive strong finishes.
Patrick, in her second full season in the Sprint Cup Series, began her roll at Atlanta, where she finished a career-best sixth. She'd never finished higher than 21st at Atlanta.
Those results were tempered, though, by the realization she was next headed to Richmond. Patrick had never qualified or finished higher than 30th at Richmond, but she shattered those marks by qualifying 13th and finishing 16th.
She then headed to home track Chicagoland Speedway, where Patrick had never qualified or finished in the top-20. She beat that mark with a 19th-place finish.
Last week at New Hampshire, Patrick ran as high as fifth late in the race before fading to finish 19th. It was still Patrick's best career finish at New Hampshire and was her fourth consecutive top-20 result.
"Everyone just works hard and it's paying off," she said. "We actually should have finished better at New Hampshire, but the yellows at the end probably didn't help. We're just getting better."
Patrick has another challenge ahead this weekend at Dover, where her four previous starts on the concrete have been struggles. Patrick has never started higher than 28th at Dover, and her career-best finish at the track came in June when she was 23rd.
Her best Dover performance was in 2010 in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race, when Patrick led three laps and finished sixth.
"I haven't run that well at Dover, but we've done better at all the tracks we've been to lately, so we're ready," she said. "I remember everyone telling me how unique and challenging Dover was prior to my first race. At the time, I didn't have a whole lot to compare that track to. It's nice to have more of a handle on what to expect heading in there now. It's fast and it can make for a really long day of racing. I think that's part of the appeal of it — how demanding it can be."
DOTY-3RD QUARTER: Jeff Gordon, winner of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, was named winner of the third-quarter Driver of the Year Award on Wednesday.
The four-time NASCAR champion, a four-time winner of the Driver of the Year award, won the voting by a panel of 17 American broadcasters and journalists.
Gordon had four first-place ballots and totaled 87 points in voting. Will Power, who won his first IndyCar championship in September, took seven first-place votes and totaled 77 points. IndyCar's Scott Dixon was third with 47 points and one first-place vote.
Donnie Schatz, who drives the Tony Stewart Racing sprint car in the World of Outlaws Series, was fourth in the balloting with 33-points and two first place votes. Jason Line, who drives the KB Racing Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro Pro Stock car in NHRA, tied Schatz with 33-points and one first place ballot.
A total of 16 drivers scored points in the second quarter voting.
Gordon won the overall Driver of the Year in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001.
NOW ON YOUTUBE: NASCAR has collaborated with YouTube to give fans access to replays of the eight remaining Chase for the Sprint Cup championship races.
The complete race replays of each Chase race will be available following the event under the playlist "Full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Replays - 2014."
"Enhancing the fan experience through NASCAR's digital properties is at the core of everything we do, and providing free, full-length race replays on YouTube gives our fans another easy way to interact with the sport," said Colin Smith, managing director of NASCAR Digital Media, which launched a completely redesigned platform before the 2013 season that included a YouTube channel.
"Having full NASCAR races on YouTube for the first time will be a big win for fans around the world, letting them watch anywhere on any device," said Claude Ruibal, YouTube's global head of sports partnerships.
GORDON'S TEAM: Robby Gordon's Stadium Super Trucks Series has sold 40 percent of its ownership stake to the Elevation Group, a Cleveland-based sponsorship marketing, event production and communications company.
"I have been intrigued with Stadium Super Trucks since my son flipped out over them at a race earlier this year," said Elevation President Denny Young, adding he and Elevation managing partner Steve Lindecke were sold when they saw an ESPN poll that showed 78 percent of X Games viewers rated Stadium Super Trucks their favorite moment of the June games.
Gordon's series, officially known as Speed Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas, uses light-duty trucks and stages races on downtown city streets and inside sporting stadiums.
The series has visited markets including Los Angeles, Detroit, Las Vegas, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Toronto, San Diego, St. Louis and Indianapolis. Gordon is expected to announce soon the series will make its international debut in 2015.