by Ryan Isley
The Danica Patrick runaway popularity train needs to derail before it is too late – if it isn’t already.
Patrick’s NASCAR career has been put in the fast lane with little proof that she can handle hanging with the good old boys on the track. At some point, someone will need to grab the reigns of the 29-year-old and pull her back into reality. Unfortunately, two of the sport’s biggest stars are the ones behind Patrick’s rise through the NASCAR ranks.
Patrick was already guaranteed a seat in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the entire 2012 season when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. signed Patrick to run her No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports but was not ready to commit her to run in the Sprint Cup Series yet.
Enter Tony Stewart, who is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. Stewart signed Patrick to run in 10 Sprint Cup races for his team in 2012, with eight of those announced at the beginning of last February.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Patrick announced that the ninth race of the 10 she will race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012 would be the Coca-Cola 600, which is run on the same day as the Indianapolis 500, meaning that Patrick would skip the one race she has always said it was her dream to win. Not only is the Coca-Cola 600 the longest and most grueling race on the NASCAR circuit, but many (including myself) think Patrick would have a better chance to win the Indianapolis 500 than to even finish the Coca-Cola 600.
Then this week came the news that Patrick would have a guaranteed spot in the Daytona 500 on February 26th, the opening race of the NASCAR season and the one widely referred to as the Super Bowl of NASCAR. While the Daytona 500 was one of the eight races she would compete in that were announced in November, it was done so with the thought that Patrick would have to race her way into the field through either pole qualifying or through the Gatorade Duals on the Thursday prior to the race.
Instead of making Patrick earn her spot in the Daytona 500, Stewart-Haas Racing teamed with Baldwin Motorsports, who will transfer points from their No. 36 car driven by Dave Blaney in 2011 to the No.10 GoDaddy.com car that will be driven by Patrick.
All of this fuss is being made for a driver who has not won a race in any series since she won the IndyCar Series’ Indy Japan 300 in 2008 and has just that lone win in her career, despite starting 190 races over various series.
In her 25 starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series between 2010 and 2011, Patrick had an average finish of just higher than 22ndand had three top-10 finishes – all of which came in 2011. In 2010, Patrick had just one top-20 finish out of 13 races and finished 30th or worse six times. While she showed improvement from 2010 to 2011, it was still over a limited schedule and she has never had the chance to race in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car, which is a completely different animal than a Nationwide car – not to mention the competition is a few notches higher.
Handing Patrick the keys to a Sprint Cup ride for the Daytona 500 after what little success she had in 25 starts in the Nationwide Series would be like taking a starting pitcher who was 3-16 with a 5.35 ERA in 25 starts at Triple-A and giving him the ball to start the first game of the World Series – it just doesn’t make any logical sense.
Based on Patrick’s resume and the history of Daytona International Speedway, there are very few positives that can result from her driving in this race.
Meanwhile, defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and 2010 Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has a deal to run just one race in the Sprint Cup Series – the Daytona 500. The only reason he even has that chance is because the Roush Fenway racing is guaranteed a spot in the race with the No.6 car based on last season.
After that, Stenhouse has no promises. Just doesn’t seem right, does it?
When Danica causes a major wreck that affects the outcome of the Daytona 500, don’t say you weren’t warned.