NASCAR All-Star Race 2014: Career-best finish, new puppy have Danica Patrick smiling

Nick Laham

A career-best finish and a new puppy give Danica Patrick plenty of reasons to be excited this week.

Between a career-best finish at Kansas and a new addition to her family, Danica Patrick's has had an eventful week.

Patrick finished seventh last weekend at Kansas Speedway for only her second career top-10 finish and her first since the 2013 Daytona 500, where she placed eighth. The result was a much-needed confidence booster for Patrick, who entered Kansas having finished 20th or worse in eight of 10 races.

"Weekends like that are just good signs," Patrick said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "They show hard work by everybody and they make you excited to do it more. So I think the optimism level goes up because you are riding high and you want to keep doing that. I think we have to keep our expectation levels in check a little bit and make sure we don't just expect to go out there and run in the top-five or top-ten every time now."

The biggest differences for Patrick at Kansas were restarts and the level of grip she had in her Chevrolet. She was also noticeably more aggressive, not being hesitant before completing passes, which was inspired by a conversation with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.

For really the first time since transiting fulltime to NASCAR from IndyCar, Patrick put together a complete weekend. She was strong in practice, qualified well (ninth), and ran consistently in near the front, running as high as third at one point.

As for Kansas representing some sort of breakthrough moment, Patrick wouldn't go that far. She views last weekend as a reassurance that her team is on the right path to being regular challengers; a building block towards something greater.

"I don't think it was a light switch for me," Patrick said. "I've always believed I can do that but when you're head-to-head with guys like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. it's another story on its own. I think that if we keep doing what we're doing and keep our heads down and not get flustered; not every single weekend is going to be like that for anyone. But we'll have more of those, for sure."

As for the new addition, Patrick and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. welcomed a miniature siberian husky into their home. The puppy -- named Dallas -- has been a handful, but nonetheless Patrick is relishing the role of dog mom.

"She's really cute," Patrick said. "She's been a lot of fun. But she definitely acts like a baby. She wakes up all the time. She poops on the floor; she goes to the bathroom all the time. She's due for more shots next week, you know, all that stuff."

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