Like it or not, racing’s most polarizing figure will be running with the big boys full time this season. After two part-time and one full-time stint in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and only 10 Sprint Cup Series starts, Danica Patrick can still be considered a newbie when it comes to stock cars. She has the talent to drive these cars but does she have the knowledge to really be competitive in NASCAR’s highest tier?
Patrick finished 10th in Nationwide standings last season which was a disappointment to not only her, but to critics as well. Expectations were high for Patrick as she made the jump from IndyCar to NASCAR last season and they will be even higher as she moves up to the Sprint Cup Series. Many thought Patrick should have garnished a few top-5 finishes and maybe even a win last season but that didn’t happen. Her highest finish was 8th at Texas in the spring.
Is it really fair to judge her solely based off of her Nationwide results last season? If you look at her finishes, they aren’t horrible, but they definitely not where she, or anyone else, thought they should be. If you dig a little deeper and look at how she ran throughout the season, the conclusion is quite a bit different.
Let’s look at Daytona. She held the Pole position in February and was looking like a contender for the win until her teammate unintentionally sent her into the wall. Same happened in the summer race when she got hit from behind and sent into the wall.
The road courses are another story. Running in the top 5 at Road America throughout most of the race, she was punted on the final lap by Jacques Villeneuve into the gravel trap and finished outside the top 10. Montreal was the big letdown of the season. After leading 20 laps, the most of her NASCAR career, Patrick looked like she could walk away with the win in Canada. On a restart, a fan threw a shoe onto the track, right in front of her oncoming car. Her car shredded the shoe and eventually sent her to the garage. Her (then) Crew Chief Tony Eury Jr said the shoe had nothing to do with her car problems but when was the last time someone ran over a shoe?
Critics are already saying her Sprint Cup season is going to be a failure but if you think about it, Sprint Cup might just be the place she excels. Jimmie Johnson struggled in the Busch Series until he moved to Cup racing and eventually dominated for 5 straight years and is still a factor in every race. Patrick could easily take to these new cars and, maybe not this season, but in a few years, really be a contender in some of these races. With Hendrick equipment and Stewart-Hass expertise, she will definitely be prepared out on the track.
Everything she does this season will be under scrutiny. Both her results and her personal life will be analyzed and dissected every weekend. Her car owner and teammate Tony Stewart has faith in Patrick saying, “She’s progressing. What she’s done in such a short amount of time has been very impressive so far. “Most of the people that do the picking and analyzing aren’t people that actually understand how to analyze a whole race from start to finish and aren’t qualified to make that judgment,” Stewart said. “But from our side as a team owner and teammate, I’ve seen great strides. She’s made huge gains in a short amount of time and that shows talent.” (Source http://aol.sportingnews.com/nascar/story/2013-02-01/danica-patrick-tony-stewart-sprint-cup-team-confidence)
Her Crew Chief Tony Gibson and his team are well prepared for what is to come in 2013 and are eager to work with their new driver. This season will be one of ups and downs for Danica Patrick and it won’t be easy. Whether or not you think she is ready for the Sprint Cup Series, she is here and she is ready to race.