Millions of race fans will be watching this coming February when one of the most famous women in sports blazes a new trail, beginning her first full Sprint Cup season in NASCAR. Her attack will be directed at her competitors as well as the record books when, barring injury, Danica Patrick will likely become the first woman to compete for an entire season in NASCAR.
Wanting to contend against the best of the best, Patrick left IndyCar in pursuit of the bigger dollars and prestige that goes with NASCAR. Yet, there are questions for the 30 year old trailblazer who will campaign this season in the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet.
The main impetus behind folks deriding or besmirching Patrick’s ability and record to compete in motorsports' top ranks is because of one reason: wins. Many people bring up the point about how will Patrick be able to compete against arguably the best drivers in the U.S. when she hasn’t shown the ability to win against lesser opposition - except for one time in a whole decade worth of racing.
That’s right. From Formula Ford, to Barber Dodge, to Toyota Atlantics and then IndyCar, Patrick only has the one win at Motegi, Japan back in 2008 to show for all her professional career. And she’s had some of the best equipment available. So again: Can she be competitive against the big boys of NASCAR?
She drives for Stewart-Haas Racing who gets much of their help from Hendricks Motorsports. Tony Stewart won the championship the year before last so the caliber to win is there in the organization. Her crew chief will be Tony Gibson, who is 48 and a longtime, well-respected mechanic. Gibson helped Alan Kulwicki win an unexpected championship in ’92 along with having been teamed up with Jeff Gordon for a couple of his championship runs. In other words, Patrick will have a talented and experienced crew chief and team behind her.
Iffy in Nationwide
Patrick’s performance last year in the Nationwide series did not impress. Out of 13 drivers who drove the entire 33 race schedule, she finished 10th with no wins or top fives and only four Top 10s. Except for Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., none of the other drivers in Nationwide are moving up to Cup, apart from Patrick. The talent is significantly higher in Cup and there’s nothing in her past that shows she can be a viable competitor in 2013.
To be fair, there are positive signs that she may be more successful than anticipated. Patrick is a good qualifier and isn’t intimidated by the high speed tracks, which new drivers tend to be hesitant about.
Patrick will have Stewart and Ryan Newman as teammates and these two valuable assets of experience can’t be discounted. However, notwithstanding her popularity, Patrick will struggle to stay in the limelight; and, top 20s should and will likely be her only realistic objective for 2013. Her unproven skill sets will be severely tested and therefore Patrick may be found in the back of the pack - any impact on the track for this trailblazer may be of the crashing variety rather than the triumphant type.