Rumor has it that NASCAR executives are working with teams in an effort to put together a package for Danica Patrick to run in NASCAR next season. Patrick has hinted before that she might be interested in racing stock cars. In 2006, she said she would consider moving to NASCAR. At that time her contract with Rahal Letterman Racing was ending. Some say she used the possibility of a NASCAR deal to force IndyCar teams to make serious offers to sign her, and keep her in the sport.
So, when rumors began surfacing in April that she would again consider moving to NASCAR, I was hardly surprised. I find it interesting that her interest in NASCAR seems to coincide with her contract expirations. Of course, if she were under contract with an IndyCar team, it wouldn’t be easy for her to jump ship to NASCAR. So, she might have been keeping it to herself, since she couldn’t do anything about it.
But now, with her contract expiring, the NASCAR rumors are in full swing. They started in April, with it being reported that she met with officials from Roush Fenway Racing. She also drove in the Rolex 24 in a Richard Childress Racing car. Patrick also said that the instability in IndyCar right now – thanks in part to family feud and power struggle – would factor into her decision.
These facts make it easy to speculate that now is the time that Patrick makes the move. And, with NASCAR struggling, execs think this might be a shot in the arm for the sport.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with Patrick, or any other female for that matter, entering the sport. I would like to see what a talented female driver can do in competitive equipment. My problem is with the way, I fear, that she will enter NASCAR.
I’m fairly certain that, should Patrick drive a stock car next season, she will do so in the Sprint Cup, not the Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series. This is a problem because she’s never driven a stock car before, and needs time to get used to it.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon, and to a lesser extent John Andretti, all made the switch into NASCAR’s top series with little to no experience driving stock cars, and all have had some success. But, for every one of them, there is a Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, or a Dario Franchitti.
And, with Patrick being a female, she’s going to face much more scrutiny than any one of them. If she comes into the Sprint Cup series with a powerhouse team, and doesn’t perform right away, the critics will question her talent, drive, focus, and whatever else seems like a credible reason for her lack of success.
Sure, Patrick will get a lot of exposure and will improve her value, but she’ll face intense pressure. Much like the pressure a driver like Dale Earnhardt Jr faces every day. Will Patrick, and her historically hot temper, be able to deal with that? Only she knows that. But, I suspect she won’t be able to deal with it AND turn out consistently strong performances on the track.
I also believe that Patrick is the last hope for women in NASCAR, at least for the foreseeable future. Chrissy Wallace was, and still may be, a woman who could have success in NASCAR’s top series with the right opportunities. But, she’s not currently racing. So, that basically leaves Patrick.
If Patrick were to make the move, there would be a lot riding on her success. She would attract a new fan base to the sport, and could help boost the sport’s popularity. She could also give Dale Jr a run for his money as NASCAR’s most popular driver. But, in order to do that she needs to consistently run up front. And, in order to do that, she needs experience.
I think that if she decides to move into NASCAR, she should go through the ARCA series. There, she can cut her teeth in stock car racing, and get familiar with the skills and terminology it takes to be successful. She needs to learn how to muscle one of these stock cars around a track. That’s no easy task for someone 5’2” and 100 lbs. She also needs to get seat time at NASCAR sanctioned tracks. And, if the testing ban remains in place if/when she makes the jump, that will be hard to do without starting in one of the smaller series.
But, I hear Patrick may think that anything but the Sprint Cup would be a step down for her. If she has that attitude, then she really needn’t both come to NASCAR because fans and other drivers will think she’s arrogant, and won’t embrace her. And, being a woman, she needs to be embraced in the sport.
So, again, if it were up to me, I would put her in any and every minor series stock car and truck race I could get her in to get her as much seat time as possible. I would have her entered in all of the ARCA, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck races I could because she can’t really afford to fail, if she comes to NASCAR.
All in all, I think Patrick faces an uphill battle because she’s a woman, and she has a hot temper. If she continues some of the antics in NASCAR that she has displayed in IndyCar, she could be doomed. But, if she comes in, earns her welcome by cutting her teeth in the smaller series, and works her way up, she could be successful. And, with so much riding on her success, she can’t afford to come into the sport the wrong way.