Many in and around motorsports have been watching to see how rookie Danica Patrick would fare as her first full-time season evolved – or devolved – in 2013. The benefit of the doubt had to be given to the former open wheel driver as with any first-year competitor would be offered. That timeframe is closing fast and at a glance, it doesn’t look good at Stewart Haas Racing.
Certainly an up-and-coming driver needs to be given time as they work their way into one of the toughest racing series’ in the world. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were all given time to work out the kinks and if memory serves me, these future multiple-time champions weren’t all that great to start with. So let’s compare.
Jeff Gordon finished outside the Top 10 in the Busch series (now Nationwide) in his first season and his first year in Cup was unspectacular unless you count the crashes and constant contacts Jeff incurred. He did however finish with seven top fives and 11 Top 10s during those first 30 Cup events. In Patrick’s first 30 races, she has no top fives and only one Top 10.
Tony Stewart came from the same general background that Patrick was from: IndyCar. In Stewart’s short IndyCar career, he won the championship one year and was third another time. Patrick never finished better than fifth overall during seven full IndyCar seasons. However, that may not be fair so let’s compare NASCAR records. He crashed many times in Busch and never won a Busch race until he was a six-year veteran in Cup. Still, Smoke won three races during his first season and finished fourth overall in Cup, while Patrick sits 28th in Cup.
Okay, how about Johnson’s first season coming from the ASA and offroad truck series’. Jimmie’s first full season in Busch was a ho-hummer, but he still earned six Top 10s. The following year in Cup as a rookie, Johnson produced three wins, four poles and finished fifth in the final standings. Again, Danica has just an eighth place finish to brag about.
Gordon could be forgiven somewhat since he was only 21 when he started, while Johnson was 26 and Stewart 28 years of age as a Cup rookie. Patrick however was 31 when she started her maiden voyage through the Cup series and had a full seven seasons of IndyCar under her belt before she stepped into NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series full-time.
Is it fair to compare with such future Hall of Famers as Gordon, Stewart and Johnson? Probably not, but who must one contrast with to find a fair comparison? How about a fellow rookie? Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who in case you’re living under a rock is Patrick’s boyfriend, is the only other full-time rookie in Sprint Cup. The two-time Nationwide series champion is just 25 and only a few years removed from driving sprint cars at short tracks around the Midwest. Stenhouse hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire but is 21st in points and has a couple of Top 10s. Yet, he has finished every race this year completing all but one-and-a-half percent of all laps. Patrick has missed nearly seven percent of all laps run and crashed out of at least five events.
By the way, the last rookie to run the full compliment of Cup races, Joey Logano in 2009, finished 20th overall in the standings with a win, three top fives and seven Top 10s.
Notwithstanding her performance on the track, Patrick has not had a good year by any comparison. However, improvement is tantamount in this industry. So is she improving? In the first 20 races of the season, she accumulated four top 15s and a pole, but in the last 10 events, she has not finished better than 20th. This past week at Kansas, she crashed on the first lap and ended up dead last without a completed lap.
Sadly, that might be the answer to the original question: Is the Danica Patrick experiment working?
What do those that matter think?
There’s no telling what her sponsor, GoDaddy, thinks let alone what her car owners, Tony Stewart or Gene Haas, are pondering. Patrick is a rookie and I’m sure will be given at least another year at Stewart Haas Racing before bad performances won’t be tolerated.
Some wonder why Haas felt compelled to add Kurt Busch to the team for next year when Stewart had said multiple times that the organization wasn’t ready to expand. Not much can be acquired knowledge-wise when an unseasoned driver continues to finish near the back of the pack. Possibly Gene Haas did indeed let us in on what the team thought.
The experiment is troubling at best and running out of time.