By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service Distributed by The Sports Xchange
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick has 118 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts to her credit.
She has no victories, no top fives.
But as Patrick starts her fourth full season in Sprint Cup, paired with new crew chief Billy Scott, she points to her ability to get up to speed more quickly in practice as a source of confidence that the results will be better this year.
"I'm far more confident," Patrick said Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway during NASCAR Media Day, the annual media event that serves as a preview for Sunday's Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX). "I'm far more confident and comfortable. I'm understanding the car properly and able to help in making it better quickly on the race weekend. Also the comfort of getting up to speed fast helps that learning curve, too.
"I remember there was lots of times in the very beginning when I wasn't able to drive the car to the very limit. We'd come in and make changes based on the way that I was driving it. Once I was driving it the way it needed to be, all of a sudden we ended up back where we started. We wasted all practice for me to learn how to do it."
That's one area where Patrick has made significant improvement over the past three seasons.
"(I'm) much better at getting up to speed," she said. "But always room to improve. I'm still working on doing a better job at that. I think, as a driver, we all tend to have our general weak areas and general strong areas. I know mine. I'm sure everybody else knows theirs, too."
"Billy is just a very relatable guy," Patrick said. "He's very easy to talk to. He's just a really normal, normal guy. I think that's important when it comes to a team, that everyone can talk to him, communicate and feel like they cannot only say what they want but have a good time as well.
"I feel like it creates a good environment. Even last weekend (in the Sprint Unlimited) when we were faced with quite a few different things, with accident, crash damage, overheating, things like that at the end, the team did a great job of working together, even though it's the first time we've all done that.
"I think that's a reflection of everybody being comfortable and confident based on his leadership."
Dillon: Nothing set in stone with Stewart-Haas Racing
Don't bet against Ty Dillon replacing injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for a number of Bass Pro Shop-sponsored races.
Though Dillon acknowledged discussions with SHR about that possibility, he said talk of a done deal at this point are "premature."
"Unfortunately, it kind of stinks that we even have to talk about this down here," Dillon said. "I think everybody, including myself, wants to see Tony go out the right way and run every single race.
"It would be an honor to drive Tony's car in his last year and hopefully do good for those guys. Nothing has been announced, and I haven't signed anything yet. We've been in talks, obviously. Hopefully, we'll have some news sooner or later.
"It's a slow process. There are a lot of different things going on. Hopefully, we'll have some news later on. Nothing is set in stone, and I don't like to say anything until pen hits paper."
Low man on the totem pole
Chase Elliott may be the youngest Daytona 500 pole winner in NASCAR history, but that doesn't mean he has moved up the pecking order at Hendrick Motorsports.
If an HMS driver happens to have an opportunity to participate in a Goodyear tire test during an off week in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, Elliott already has been "volunteered" for the job -- by teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
"I get volunteered for tests that those guys don't want to go do," Elliott said during Daytona 500 media day interviews at Daytona. "If there's a test on an off week, you're probably not going to see Jimmie, Dale or Kasey go do it. They're going to sign me up firsthand. What am I going to say?
"I'm not against it. It's just funny. We were in a meeting the other day, and they talked about having a test sometime throughout the year, maybe one of the off weeks or something. It hadn't (been) two seconds and Jimmie said, 'Chase, sign him up.'"
New opportunity for Allgaier
With Clint Bowyer needing a place to drive for a year while waiting to take over the No. 14 Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas Racing, Justin Allgaier was the odd man out at HScott Motorsports.
But in Allgaier's estimation, the opportunity to race for a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with JR Motorsports is ample compensation for losing a full-time Sprint Cup ride. The presence of team principals Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller made signing with JRM a no-brainer.
"This is the easiest decision I've made in a long time, I think," Allgaier said. "I look at what Dale and Kelley and this whole organization has done and accomplished and what they're trying to accomplish.
"And I think, from a driver's aspect, to have an owner that races and understands the on-track stuff, and to have owners that understand the off-track stuff as well as anybody -- to be able to understand how to put the right people in place -- I feel like just being part of the organization for the past couple of months, I think they've got a great handle on that, and that's all I needed to see."
Allgaier considers the move to the Xfinity Series a step forward, given the resources and the wealth of experience available to him at JRM.
"Nothing against any of the race teams I've been with in my past history," he said. "It's just different. And I think you can go to every team in the industry and drive for them. Some you're going to be competitive in, and some you're not. Some you're going to have fun in, some you're not. Sometimes you're going to be competitive and not have fun. There are all these things that weigh into it.
"Personally, I needed to get back to being competitive and trying to go to the racetrack to win races and win the championship -- and learning. I think the resources, for me, are something I'm really excited to be a part of. ... I think, from a driver's standpoint, the learning side has been the coolest thing for me."