Danica Patrick on a frustrating 2016 season: “I get so sad . . . it’s just not much fun”

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Danica Patrick thought the signs were pointing to a breakthrough, not a breakdown at Phoenix International Raceway.

She qualified 16th – only the second time in four months she had started in the top 20. The No. 10 Chevrolet showed speed in practice on the 1-mile oval. The team took some chances on setup, gambling on securing a season-best finish.

And then she finished 29th.

“(It) might have been my worst ever Cup race,” Patrick said on the most recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I felt so, so, so slow. The car would not turn. … I just get so sad now.”

Though she felt improvement as a driver, Patrick’s 2016 results were a mix of small gains, flat statistics and some regression. She averaged a finish of 22nd, a personal best in four full seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, and a 24th-place ranking in the points was even with the previous season.

But an average starting position of 25.1 was a slip of nearly three spots from 2015, and she failed to record a top 10 in a Cup season for the first time.

“It’s just not much fun,” she said. “Running in the top 15 every weekend would be so much more fun. It’s just so much more competitive (to be on the) lead lap, something on the line every time instead of terrible races where things don’t go well because things just sucked that day.

“I do just really, really hope it goes better. I care so much about it, it breaks my heart every Sunday when it doesn’t go well.”

Last season was Patrick’s first with crew chief Billy Scott at Stewart-Haas Racing. What are her goals for 2017?

“Probably the most productive thing is motivate my team,” she said. “Ask a lot of questions. Ask what we are going to do to get better and hope the right changes are made, the resources are there, the time and effort is available and you show up the next year with everything better.”

During the podcast, Patrick also discussed:

–Her new Warrior clothing line, which will make its debut in January, and a book (Pretty Intense) that is slated for 2018;

–How new sponsor Nature’s Bakery has made it easier to align her personal and professional branding (and her hopes of one day creating her own fig bar for the sponsor);

–What it’s like hanging out around friends with kids;

–Why she decided to tweet recently about the president-elect;

–How Tony Stewart’s transition from driver to owner might return him to being a mentor.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.