Expectations for Danica Patrick after her top-10 finish this year at the Daytona 500 may have been too high.
That was evident when she wrecked and ended up finishing 39th among 43 drivers at the Subway Fresh Fit 500 on Sunday.
Patrick was in 26th place in Phoenix even before her tire blew out, and she crashed on lap 185. Patrick was encouraged that she was on the lead lap for more than half of the race, but she also said it was "not an awesome day by any means," via USA Today.
If we needed any more of a reminder that this is Patrick's first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, her crash on Sunday echoed throughout NASCAR Nation. Her eighth-place finish at Daytona cannot be ignored, but neither can her wreck in Phoenix.
"Progress" should be the word of the season for Patrick. If she can make progress throughout the course of the year, it should be deemed a success. If it becomes apparent that she is simply outclassed on the track, it should be deemed a failure. Success cannot simply be defined by top-10 finishes or bottom-10 finishes. How she looks on the track is the most important thing.
This is a learning experience for the 30-year-old. The Subway Fresh Fit 500 marked her 12th career Sprint Cup race. It was similar to her showing in the 2012 Daytona 500, where she crashed and finished 38th among 43 drivers.
What Danica does moving forward will be determined by what she learns along the way. Will she make the same mistakes over and over again? Or will she turn her weaknesses on the track into strengths?
Progress can also only be made if Patrick stays focused and confident. A jarring crash like the one on Sunday has the potential to shift her off course and derail her 2013 NASCAR campaign.
Questions and doubts surround Danica at every turn. She needs to race past them and keep moving forward.