In Danica Patrick’s fourth NASCAR race, she was involved in an early incident, went several laps down and still managed to earn a career-best finish. That should be an indication of how poorly she’s performed since she decided to get behind the wheel of a stock car.
Jeff Gluck, of SB Nation, called her run in the New England 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway “ugly, embarrassing and even a bit shocking.”
Most observers didn’t expect Danica to run much better than she did (despite her stated goal of a top-15 finish), so that wasn’t the surprising part. What was stunning was listening to her radio chatter and beginning to understand just how little she knows about NASCAR.
Throughout the race, Danica was asking questions most every NASCAR fan already knows the answer to. She didn’t know to try different lines to gain speed. She didn’t know about the bump-and-run (she should have a meeting with Kurt Busch: see Lenox Industrial Tools 301). She didn’t know that there was more grip at the bottom of the track. Basic stuff.
Those types of comments are what a rookie driver would say in ARCA or maybe a Late Model series; they aren’t typical radio chatter in the second-highest level of stock-car racing in the world.
And while he is correct, that it was ugly and embarrassing, I don’t think it was all too shocking.
Given her open-wheel background, Danica is not used to contact. Contact is much more dangerous in IndyCar than NASCAR because of the lighter weight of the cars and the high speeds. In IndyCar, if the forward edge of your tire touches the rear edge of another driver’s tire, your car is flung upwards. (See the result here.) That is why it isn’t surprising that Danica had no idea that contact – when you haven’t done anything to piss off another driver – is the norm.
Also, in IndyCar the wheels are exposed to cool air all the time. This allows the car’s brakes to perform better and allows the car to handle better. That, I suspect, explains why Patrick is not used to having to search for different lines to gain speed. She’s not used to the car slipping and sliding around. In IndyCar, the cars handle well enough that any line works (you drive where others aren’t driving). In NASCAR, the setup is much more sensitive to the line. So, drivers have to do a lot more searching.
In Danica’s defense, it’s unrealistic to expect her to climb into the seat of a stock car and know everything about the cars, the tracks, and NASCAR racing, which is considerably different from IndyCar. Granted, the Nationwide Series is probably not the series in which to learn this stuff.
One year ago, I wrote:
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.
I think that racing in the ARCA Re/Max Series would have allowed her the time to learn this stuff. But, in this day and age, sponsor patience won’t allow that. Danica has name recognition, and it’s that recognition that GoDaddy wants to capitalize on right now. As a result, we see her in the Nationwide Series, out of her league*.
* Before you Patrick supporters get bent out of shape, I don’t mean she is out of her league talent-wise; I am strictly speaking about experience.
More-deserving and/or more experienced drivers without name recognition do not attract a sponsor’s attention enough to earn high-quality rides. This is not always the case, but it is certainly more prevalent now. And ultimately, sponsors have virtually all of the power.
Knowing that GoDaddy wanted Danica in one of the top series sooner rather than later, I feel that JRM officials needed to do more to prepare her for the adjustment. It’s not really her fault she doesn’t know the basics. But, JRM should have checked that she did know and understand them before putting her in the car. NASCAR is not a place to throw someone to the wolves and see how they do, especially if they want her foray into NASCAR to appear legitimate, instead of appearing like a marketing gimmick.
But, I suspect that since no one at JRM has an open-wheel background, they didn’t anticipate how much different the cars are and how much of an adjustment it would be for her. Perhaps they should have, but it’s a moot point now.
If anything, the New England 200 should be a wake-up call for JRM. They should go back to the drawing board and make sure Danica understands all of the aspects of NASCAR racing. Otherwise, she will never succeed.