Danica Patrick 2012 and Beyond

In Nationwide overall standings, Danica Patrick ended the year in 10th, a spot she remained steadily at throughout the year.  My reminder to all is this; it was her first full time season in Nascar.  Sure she’s raced in Indy Car, but Nascar is a whole different entity, different rules, completely different types of cars.  Also, there’s the contact factor in Nascar which you don’t see on purpose in Indy Car Racing.

Her year was sporadic in Nationwide, early on, it looked promising, taking the Pole at Daytona with a seasoned veteran crew chief, Tony Eury Jr.  They were all smiles with hopes of more poles to come.  However, that would be her only pole the whole season and although there was a great chemistry, Eury Jr. would be replaced by years end.

The standout races in my mind are the ones, where we saw her shine or where she looked out of her element.
I cringed while watching the Michigan race, where she spun out three times and struggled with pitting.  I thought what if this happens every weekend? I think for her, it was a time of growth and development, each race a learning experience.  She’s a cerebral driver, making mental notes on what she needs to do at the moment, and what changes need to be made next time.  Sure she spun, but her spins were not hitting the wall, and even when she did, it was done with as much control as one could have.  Anyone else after that type of day would be doubting themselves, but Danica kept her focus and determination.

A highlight of the year was the Napa 200 race in Montreal, where she led 20 laps and demonstrated her car control.  Also noticeable was her improved pitting and re-starts.  It was also one of those rare happy moments where she commented on how nice it was to look out the windshield with nobody in front.  However, she eventually had a trackbar failure and ended up finishing in 27th place.

As an observer of every race, I asked Danica, via Twitter, “Do you think you are as competitive now as you were your first year in Indy Car?”  She answered back with a decisive, “Absolutely!!”

Then I witnessed at the Nationwide Kansas race, Danica’s most impressive driving in Nascar.  She said that was about the most aggressive driving she’s done in a car and finished in 10th after a 13th place starting spot.  It was a night filled with passing from the bottom of the track, to going three wide and great pittting.  She had some nicely executed re-starts and there was an overall display of great team work.  A night which, made her a real Nascar contender.

However, as I am writing this, what is on everyone’s mind is her announcement that she’s ending a marriage of seven years.  As a longtime fan, it was comforting to see a constant show of support on the sidelines, which will be missed.  Luckily, she has the off season to handle personal matters.  As a person who has been separated, I hope the press and even fans treat them both with the respect, privacy and dignity they deserve.

On a high note, she will start the Sprint Cup Series next year with crew Chief Tony Gibson.  Who said,“We don’t want her to adapt to our setups, we want to adapt to her driving style.”

Hearing that was music to my ears.  From watching her Kansas Sprint Cup race, you know her team is behind her and they will back her up 100%, she also proved that she can drive with the elite.  Running with Jeff Gordon and her boss Tony Stewart, she proved she is capable of finishing on the lead lap in a Cup car.  Her ways of giving feedback for what she needs from the car is increasing, even her awareness of who’s supposed to be placed where on the track is evident; she wants everyone to re-start where they should.  Her new spotter has yet to be names, hopefully he will be as informative and encouraging as Tab Boyd was.

Naysayer’s will point out her Sprint Daytona race and the Sprint Phoenix races and say, look she caused mayhem.  They fail to point out; she was caught up in other people’s wrecks.  Also she had on numerous occasions, mechanical issues, elements that are beyond her control as a driver.

Janet Guthrie was a racing pioneer, racing both in the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, and she deserves a lot of credit for proving a woman can make it in a man’s sport.  What many who don’t support Danica are failing to see is this, when we follow Danica; we are watching History being made again.  This year Danica’s 10th place overall finish was the highest place by a woman ever.  She will be the first woman to start in the Sprint Cup Series, that’s an accolade in itself.  Each time she goes out there in Sprint Cup, like Guthrie, she’ll be breaking new records.  Not only is she making History she’s inspiring young girls who want to become professional drivers or even just work in the industry.  The capability for top 15‘s are reasonable goals, can you imagine the look on the clueless Danica hater’s faces if she gets a first place finish?  That in itself would be monumental and well worth the wait.

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