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Danica Patrick scores career-best sixth-place finish in Atlanta

NASCAR Stewart Auto R_Gast (1).jpg

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick gets ready to practice for Sunday's NASCAR auto race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

Entering Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick had been mired in a slump -- and that's just putting it mildly.

But after six consecutive races in which she failed to crack the top 15 in the final rundown, Patrick seemingly come out of nowhere to deliver a career-best sixth-place finish in Sunday night's Oral-B USA 500.

Starting 27th on the 43-car grid, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver methodically marched her way forward, and thanks to some key adjustments from crew chief Tony Gibson, was in position to possibly earn her first Sprint Cup win -- and with it a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Lining up fourth and in the non-preferred outside line on the second of two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, Patrick lost two positions over the final two laps to come sixth -- but it was still her best finish in 71 career Sprint Cup starts.

"It was a long night," said Patrick, whose best finish prior to Sunday was a seventh-place finish at Kansas Speedway in mid-May. "Man, that race felt like it was 700 miles. Sometimes when you are running well they feel like that because you are hoping it stays there, keeps going well, and you keep improving and don't lose it. There were definitely a couple of times late in the race when we fell back. In the middle of the race the car was very good. We took a little step back, and then it came back in the end. Tony Gibson just reset everything to where we were when we were running well."

Fast pit work by Patrick's No. 10 crew moved her up to seventh after all the leaders hit pit road following a caution brought out when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. tangled on Lap 324, setting up the first green-white checkered attempt.

"Obviously the pit stop at the end that was 11 seconds was so good," Patrick said. "There were a couple of rough ones in the beginning but that one made up for it because it put us seventh on that restart, and we had a good line on the inside and didn't get caught up on the outside."

Patrick climbed three spots when Kevin Harvick's dominant No. 4 Chevrolet got sandwiched between Paul Menard and Joey Logano, hitting the wall and setting up what would be the last restart.

Despite slipping to sixth over the final two laps, Patrick couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome -- and was already harboring high hopes for next weekend's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway, a track she doesn't consider a favorite.

"I am just so happy for the team," said Patrick, who recorded her third top-10 finish of the season after posting just one top-10 last year as a Sprint Cup Series rookie. "We have had pretty fast cars for quite a while now and not really great finishes for it. So this is for everybody and GoDaddy. I have sucked at Richmond every time, so I sure hope I can run well at Richmond now."