Can Danica Patrick
Make The Grade In NASCAR ?
Danica Patrick will be taking her show to the
NASCAR Nationwide series next season, how will
she do ?
Credit: PaddockTalk/Paul Hurley
By Anne Proffit
NASCAR is about to find out what it’s like to
have the Indy Racing League’s 100-pound gorilla
in the house, as Danica Patrick begins her foray
into the world of stock car racing.
Confirming one of those “worst-kept” secrets
that are the backbone of motorsports media,
Patrick announced on 8 December that she intends
to run a limited number of NASCAR Nationwide
Series races with JR Motorsports, working under
the tutelage of crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
If this is the way Patrick’s career is headed, I think
it’s a good choice to do her baptism before and after
her day job takes place – the IZOD IndyCar Series runs
from mid-March to early October of 2010. She starts her
stock car career in the ARCA contest at Daytona
International Speedway the day before the 2010 NFL Super
Bowl. Her first test in an ARCA stock car takes place at
Daytona next week.
Patrick will race under the green-and-black colors of
GoDaddy.com – her supporter in the open wheel arena with
Andretti Autosport – and already, track operators are
hoping that Patrick will choose to show up at their
Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, which hosts the
second Cup race of the season is hoping she’ll gain the
accreditation at Daytona that will permit Patrick to
race in the Nationwide opener at their track. Kentucky
Speedway, too, hopes Patrick will race in their event in
mid-June when the ICS has an off-weekend.
After all, she brings in more women, obviously, but
there are men (and women, too) who will come to her
races just to see if she can manhandle (pun intended)
one of these very large and lazy stock cars.
Granted, Danica Patrick is no wimp. Anyone who’s ever
experienced her handshake can tell you that. She’s in
awesome condition and is likely physically ready for the
demands of stock car racing. Whether she is mentally
prepared, however, is another question.
After all, this is the driver who has let her emotions
run rampant when she’s felt – rightly or wrongly –
abused on a racetrack. While best known for her debut
near-win in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, it’s Patrick’s
temper tantrums have given her as much press as her
on-circuit prowess. Just ask a few of her victims: Dan
Wheldon, Ryan Briscoe and, yes, Milka Duno.
The question remains, then, does Danica Patrick have the
patience for the “rubbing is racing” set? The first time
she gets bump-drafted will she react in an angry manner?
Will there be a Charles Burns to stop her from ripping
someone a new hole?
NASCAR is licking its chops at the prospect of having
another publicity machine on its hands, particularly
with the JR Motorsports affiliation that brings together
Dale Earnhardt Jr, his sister Kelley, NASCAR’s nine-time
championship team owner Rick Hendrick and Eury Jr. The
Nationwide Series needs up-and-coming stars rather than
carpetbaggers from the Sprint Cup side of the equation.
Grandstands are normally not full for the Nationwide
races – would they be if Patrick were there to race?
Some will come to see her fail, and it’s unlikely she’ll
have the mercurial success enjoyed in her first IndyCar
Series season. Rather, Danica Patrick must spend good
time learning and listening from those to whom she has
entrusted her career, as she initially did at Rahal
The road to stock car success hasn’t been great for
other IndyCar stars: Dario Franchitti couldn’t make the
grade and Sam Hornish Jr continues to have his own
troubles (a lot of that comes down to equipment for
both). Juan Pablo Montoya is just now beginning to make
his mark in Cup competition, having qualified for the
Chase this season – and some of his success has to do
with a Ganassi change to Chevrolet power this year.
Danica Patrick could make the switch – eventually – to
running stock cars fulltime, but in the meantime, her
part-time dalliance brings a halo effect to the open
wheel arena, whether she has the goods or not. For a
series that desperately needs more publicity, this is a
grand way to keep the IZOD ICS name in the public’s mind
before and after the protracted season begins.
Patrick is NOT the first woman to try NASCAR competition
and certainly won’t be the last, but she surely is the
most publicized, thanks to her body conditioning, sexy
good looks and yes, her ability to drive a racecar and
win, even if only once in five seasons. It’s no
falsehood that Danica Patrick has improved greatly over
her open wheel career.
Here’s hoping she can make the grade – her failure is
really not an option.
(c) 2009 Anne Proffit