The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will mark the most anticipated rookie class in the series since the year 2000 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. joined the ranks of the then Winston Cup series. The reason is Danica Patrick who will move up from NASCAR’s Nationwide Series full time for Stewart-Haas Racing. The excitement surrounding the 30-year old Roscoe, Illinois native’s 2013 trek is only equaled by the curiosity of how well Patrick will do in the Cup ranks. Besides on the on-track results, Patrick will also have to deal with off-track questions regarding her readiness and capability of being competitive in NASCAR’s top circuit.
Going into her rookie campaign, Patrick’s naysayers appear to have the upper hand when it comes to the argument of her belonging in the Cup series. In Patrick’s 10 starts in 2013 in the Sprint Cup series, her average finish was 28.3 with a best finish of 17th in her final start of the season at Phoenix. It should be noted that because Patrick started more than seven races in 2012, she will be ineligible to win the 2013 Sprint Cup rookie of the year award.
Patrick’s numbers in the Nationwide Series were not too impressive in 2012 either, although it appeared as though she was more competitive in the latter part of the season. In 33 starts, Patrick notched only four top 10 finishes with an average of 18.8 while scoring a pole in the season opener at Daytona. She did manage to finish 10th in the series standings. In 58 career starts on the Nationwide circuit, Patrick has one top five, seven top 10s and an average finish of 20.6. Her best finish came at Las Vegas in 2011 when she placed fourth.
Regardless of how 2013 goes, Patrick will be making history every step of the way. Besides being the only female driver on the circuit, Patrick will also be the only full-time female driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ modern era. There’s little doubt that Patrick’s learning curve will be stiff. Patrick will have room to learn and grow through the first portion of the season but it’s very likely she will struggle along the way. Thankfully for her sake, she will likely be able to start the first handful of races during the season without worry thanks to the new provisional system.
Though she will not be running for the rookie of the year award, Patrick’s success on the track will be directly compared to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. who will be racing for the award. Stenhouse holds the upper-hand on Patrick success-wise with back-to-back Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and 2012 and is the more polished of the two drivers. However it should be noted that in four Cup starts in 2012, Stenhouse’s average finish was 26.5 with a best showing of 12th in his start at Dover.
Based on her history in the Nationwide Series, it is likely that Patrick’s best success of the year could come on the restrictor plate tracks of Talladega and Daytona. Patrick also raised eyebrows in the Nationwide races at Road America and Montreal which could translate to good runs at Sears Point and Watkins Glen. Regardless, 2013 will be the biggest challenge of Danica Patrick’s entire racing career. It should be interesting to see just how well she does.