The Danica Patrick Experiment: Is It Working?

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.

How long does Danica Patrick have before she no longer has a ride?
Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Champion comparison

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.

Fellow rookie

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.

Danica’s boyfriend and fellow rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17), has had a better first Cup year so far in 2013.
Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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.

 

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Nationwide Top 5 vie for championship

Is Loss of Nationwide Series Title Sponsorship a Good Thing for NASCAR?

 

 

Topics: Danica Patrick, Gene Haas, Stwart Haas Racing, Tony Stewart

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  • David Russell Edwards

    Of course its working. The checks are clearing nicely., done deal.

  • Dante Paganucci

    This was a train looking for a spot to wreck. Against those who knew better they brought up to the Cup ranks too soon. Eury had it right, should have kept her in Nationwide series for one more year the get experience and confidence.
    Put Johanna Long in the same high-caliber equipment and lets see what see does.

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  • noonan18

    Obviously the writer has issues with Danica. Why else would he post this conveniently after her last place finish, and her first one of the season. And she has never been given the benefit of the doubt. Are you kidding? The haters were out before we got to Daytona in February.

    The comparisons to Gordon, Stewart etc are not equal comparisons. Smoke and Gordon did not get rushed to Cup like Danica has, so she is essentially learning on the fly because sponsors are always pushing drivers up too early. See Logano, Hornish, Sorenson. She really should have spent a few more years in NW, but GoDaddy called the shots on that one due to money.

    The expectations that have been placed on her by the haters, she will never satisfy. I actually like the approach she has taken. Never said she would set the world on fire to start with, but always saying that she is trying to learn and get better. If after a few more years, she is not more competitive, I will call it a failure, but I’m willing to give her at least 2 more years, just like any other rookie, before I call her a failure. I know I’m in the minority on that one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=621690187 Robby Post

      Best comparison is AJ Allmendinger.

      AJ and Danica came up the open wheel ranks together. In 2003 they were both in Toyota Atlantics. AJ drove for RuSport…a first year team with limited resources. Danica drove for Bobby Rahal’s highly funded established team. AJ won 10 of the 13 races en route to the Championship..Danica didn’t even podium(in what was a rather weak Atlantics field that year)..BTW, AJ and Danica were both rookies as well.

      AJ was off to Champ Car the following year while Danica did another unimpressive year in Atlantics before going to the IRL.

      AJ became a superstar and was offered a very nice, but stupid deal by Red Bull. They made him choose F1 or NASCAR..because Champ Car was circling the drain(and it eventually got absorbed by IRL and became IndyCar)…not wanting to leave the states he chose NASCAR. He he chose F1….he’d be in Sebastian Vettel’s ride. Oops, AJ.

      Anyway…AJ came straight into Cup without any stock car experience. No trucks. No Nationwide. Cup rookie straight from open wheel…when Champ Car didn’t run ovals(AJ ran 3 years in Champ Car and his first open wheel oval race was this year’s Indy 500)…To top that Red Bull was a brand new team, with a brand new manufacturer(Toyota)…All signs pointed AJ to failure…and he did. Danica has at least had a year in Nationwide driving for upper tier teams…which AJ never had coming in.
      But everyone remembers what a talent he was…and he’s made a career out of people knowing the kind of talent he DOES have that hasn’t been out there. It could’ve come from RPM if they had the money to keep him right as they were becoming a chase contender(AJ did finished 13th at cutoff in 2011)….Maybe if he wasn’t stupid last year with Penske….but then he goes and has an amazing Indy 500 run in his first try…and then 2 dominating Nationwide wins…not to mention the masterful battles he had in the 24 hours of Daytona…and suddenly has a full time ride again…

      I say all this because that’s what Danica will never have. That notice that she has all the talent in the world that’s never been on display. They’ve all seen it AJ and want to try to get it back out of him.