The world of NASCAR heads into its fourth week of competition in Atlanta this weekend, and through the mostly plain and uneventful first three weeks, one headline has dominated the sport.
?Danica Nation Heads to NASCAR.?
Let me start this long and overdue rant by saying that I initially was a fan of the young, up and coming IRL star when she hit open-wheel ranks. I mean why not, we grew up roughly 90 miles apart. At that point, I saw her as a talented driver who has worked her way up the pole to land a ride with one of the better teams in that series. Now I just see a driver more willing to work the pole to land a top ride in a different series.
I still remember watching Patrick race in that 2005 Indianapolis 500, driving for Rahal-Letterman Racing, and impressing the entire nation with that 4th place finish. One of the things I took from that race was, this girl could be for real. It didn?t take long for those ideas to be put to rest. The following four seasons in the IRL have not gone the way many people would have liked to see for the sports most popular driver. Yes, I know she became the first female driver to win in the series, but only because Tony Kanaan ran out of gas on the final lap while leading. If you look at her career stats, she has finished in the top 10 in a little over half of her starts. Not bad, but she has also failed to finish on the lead lap almost as many times, not good. Some people may look at her final point standing finishes and call them successful seasons. I don?t. The IRL is not very competitive. In a given race, there are maybe four or five teams that have a chance to win. So to think that Patrick has done anything amazing in her five seasons in the IRL would be a mistake?..unless you have the expectations of Buckshot Jones. My personal thoughts on Danica Patrick can be summed up in this equation that I conjured up over many nights of pondering.
Danica Patrick<=>Anna Kournikova
Now, Danica heads to NASCAR. I wasn?t surprised to hear this news about this time last year, however, I was surprised how much support she received. Just to make sure the readers don?t think that I am totally naïve, I know she is good for NASCAR from a marketing perspective, and that she will create a buzz at every race she enters. That buzz will be short lived. America loves it?s next big thing, and D.P. is the next big thing in stock car racing. I can?t recall a driver being hyped this much since Dale Earnhardt Jr. came into the sport in 1998 (in the Busch Series). Earnhardt won though, Danica most likely won?t. Unless its one of those races where the rain is coming, where everyone pits in a frenzy, except for Danica, and happens to steals one?..like she did at Twin Rings Motegi.
After watching the Nationwide Series race in Las Vegas, seeing Patrick and Michael McDowell come together and wreck, I saw two things that really irked me. First, McDowell cowering like a little school-girl, apologizing to Danica/Junior nation, and second, Danica herself acting like she had nothing to do with it, assessing most the blame on McDowell and her spotter. I saw the crash, and if you care enough to read this far, I?m assuming you have too. It was both of their faults for the accident. McDowell should have given her more room, but she should not have pushed the issue and dove under him that far down the front stretch. This is not a positive sign for the young female driver. The tough part about this whole thing is that she should not have been shoved into the Nationwide Series to begin with. Take it from Travis Pastrama, learn stock cars in the ARCA series or maybe even a lesser circuit to wet your feet. There is a reason you season your young pitcher in the A or AA leagues, don?t stunt your development due to sponsorship obligations.
Now I don?t really want to get into the whole feminist movement thing, or the fact that Danica is taking women back 20 years with her ridiculous and risqué ad campaigns, or the fact that I don?t believe she is as talented as her employers would indicate. But I can?t help but think she is setting such a negative precedent for young female drivers throughout the country. The last thing we want is to see girls think this is the best way to get what you want. Don?t think for a second that money didn?t have something to do with JRMotorsports signing her for a limited Nationwide schedule.
The final point I?d like to make is that the open-wheel to NASCAR experiment has proven to be a bust, with the exception of Juan Pablo Montoya, who in my opinion is on the verge of something special. Many have tried however, such as Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti. All of whom have had limited (by limited I mean they qualified for some races) to no success and went back to their respective racing series. Hornish has been able to muster some quality races, but is still mired in that 20th-35th place in the standings. All studious fans of auto racing, whether it?s NASCAR, IRL, F1 or Motocross, know that there are almost no parallels between any of these types of racing, and trying to jump in think you can have immediate success should be categorized as delusional.
I can?t fault her as a person for making the decision to make the open-wheel to stock car transition, we all know there is a lot more money to be won in NASCAR right now. But, we should fault the media, fans, and NASCAR itself for putting this girl on a stage where she is likely to fail. It isn?t fair to anyone, especially to that other young driver, male or female, who has the talent and worked hard enough, only to be denied that once in a lifetime chance because of a faulty marketing campaign. ?Go, Danni!?
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