NASCAR: Danica Patrick searching for some consistency

Inconsistency in NASCAR races casts doubt on whether she'll last

August 25, 2010|By George Diaz

Just six months ago, Danica Patrick was a NASCAR rock star. She dazzled the crowd at media day at Daytona. Onlookers, journalists and photographers joined together in a paparazzi feeding frenzy. Short of scenes involving guys named Earnhardt, I hadn't seen anything quite like it.

Flash forward to the dog days of summer, and the rock star's entourage has lost a little bit of that energetic infatuation. The click-click-click now is accompanied by the blah-blah-blah.

That's a good way to document Patrick's presence on the NASCAR scene. Although Patrick had a career-best finish of 24th at Chicago recently, her average finish is 30.5 for six races on the NASCAR circuit.

"I just want to get out there and start logging laps,'' Patrick said recently. "Everything is still fairly new, and I'm still learning."

You can't judge Patrick or any driver on such a limited resume. Her rookie stats are comparable to those of others who have made the switch from open-wheel to a stock car.

She has much in common with Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr. and Tony Stewart — all of whom failed to snag a top-10 finish in their first four NASCAR Nationwide/Busch series starts.

But given all the hype, there is certainly more pressure on her to deliver. At some point, she has to start performing consistently. If not, she will get bounced.

"Here is the best part about our sport," Kyle Petty told me during that Speedweeks frenzy in February. "Male, female, red and yellow, black and white, wherever you want to go. It doesn't make any difference because you're not going to be here if you aren't competitive.

"And that's how simple it is. If she were 6-feet-6, 220 pounds, ripped like Carl Edwards, but she couldn't drive a race car, she's not going to be here long. If she's 5-foot, 95 pounds and as good-looking as she is, if she can't drive a race car, she's not going to be here long. This is a sport that rewards success, but if you're not successful, it's a cruel sport. It will just kick you to the wayside, and we'll never hear from you again."

Patrick will be back next season. She is expected to drive for JR Motorsports in a Nationwide Series car.

JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt told reporters last week that she is waiting for the IndyCar schedule to be released to figure out how many races Patrick will be able to fit into the NASCAR schedule. She is running 13 races this year for JRM that accommodate her IndyCar commitments.

It's too early to call Danica's switch to NASCAR a failure. It also would be incredibly presumptuous to say she eventually will get the hang of it.

Petty is right. It is a cruel sport. He never came close to the success of his iconic father. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is another guy stumbling about trying to match the success of his father.

The name might open some doors here and there.

At some point, Patrick will have to prove that she can drive a car with a roof over its head.

gdiaz@tribune.com

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