Patrick on fast track

4th-place finish in Las Vegas establishes her as contender

March 16, 2011|By George Diaz

True confession: I purposely avoided the Danica Show during the media blitz of NASCAR speed weeks last month.

Been there, done that. Danica Patrick was the queen of the podium a year ago as well, when the media was going gaga over the new girl trying to convince people that she was ready to make the dicey transition from open-wheel to stock cars.

She wasn't. Nobody can do this part-time and expect to succeed. She made 13 Nationwide Series starts and finished 43rd in the point standings

Fast-forward to March 2011. Patrick is no longer someone for everyone to fawn over as she makes a cameo stint along NASCAR's circuit.

She can drive.

She recently finished fourth in Las Vegas in the Nationwide race — the highest finish by any woman in a national NASCAR race in the sport's 62-year history.

"I think that elevated her," NASCAR Chairman Brian France said. "There was some discussion, did she have the right stuff to compete in the Nationwide Series? You know, I think she dispelled a lot of that. There are always circumstances in the start of a new career. But sometimes things are out of your control, people can crash in front of you, a hundred other things.

"I think she elevated herself quite nicely. That's nice to see. She's a very competitive person. She always has said she's here to compete, not just happy to be here. That fits my criteria."

Patrick is fourth in the Nationwide Series standings as she prepares to run at the famed Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend — her first try at the short-track circuit.

It's another step, a significant one, as Patrick eases into the transition from open-wheel to stock car.

It's going to happen. Pencil in next year because her contract with Andretti Autosport is expiring after this season. A full-time move to NASCAR and all its new sponsorship and marketing perks is a natural fit.

Patrick — who races the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series — needs a new set of goals beyond the open-wheel circuit. NASCAR will offer a bunch of money and new challenges.

This will be her fourth start of what could be as many as 14 Nationwide runs in 2011. She will need to scale back her NASCAR commitments to focus on a full IndyCar schedule shortly.

"I can't wait to compete there," Patrick said in statement. "Not only will it provide a challenging circuit, but I also have a feeling it will be one of the most electric crowds I've ever been able to race in front of. It should be a fantastic show."

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