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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Danica needs to do her homework, or NASCAR experiment will fail

Just when you say something nice about Danica Patrick, she opens her mouth and the harsh reality kicks in.

Just a couple days ago, I wrote how she was smart to let everyone know that her goals are realistic, shooting for a top-15 or top-20 this weekend at New Hampshire, and that miracles aren’t going to happen during this part-time run at NASCAR in 2010.

I’m trying to give her time, as it’s only been four races, but the way Danica was talking on her radio Saturday during the race, you would think she had never even seen a stock car race in her life. She just doesn’t get stock car racing, and I’m not just talking about adjusting to the cars, which are a big change from her usual Indycar ride.

She doesn’t get basic concepts, like the fact that when you’re racing for 30th place, there’s a responsibility to leave a little room in case the other guy gets loose. That’s what happened when Morgan Shepherd and her had their incident, and if she had just been a little bit more clear of him, they both could have gone on with their days without spinning.

Then, after the incident, she said this:
“He totally took me out. Doesn’t he get some sort of penalty for that or something?”

Has she not seen the past few weeks of racing, when everybody on the track literally has hit or been hit about 20 times? Comments like that just fuel the people who think she is wasting her time with this NASCAR experiment. Contact is part of racing, and she should know that.

If Danica doesn’t start to grasp some very basic concepts, it’s going to be an extremely rough year for her. She needs to do her homework, figure out how to drive a stock car – whether it be through more testing or simulators – because at the current pace she might manage a top-10 finish by 2012. (She had her best career finish at New Hampshire, 30th, improving by one over her previous best of 31st … take out start-and-parkers, and she hasn’t finished ahead of anybody of note.)

In a car put together by JR Motorsports, which is affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports and offers top-notch equipment, she was racing for positions against guys like Shepherd and Mark Green, whose teams have a budget that basically allows them to get to the next race and requires them to use old equipment passed down from other teams. To make a Cup analogy, it’s like a Hendrick car racing for position with Dave Blaney or Joe Nemechek, and struggling to take it.

When trying to pass a driver, she point-blank said: “I don’t know how to do it!” It’s astounding to me that a driver who has won an Indycar race, and almost did it again a few weeks ago, would have that little knowledge of stock car racing. By keeping her day job and doing this as a hobby, she is limiting the time she has to learn stock cars, and limiting how well she will do. Many prominent NASCAR drivers have said she needs to commit herself to stock cars if she’s going to do well, and showings like New Hampshire are what happens when that commitment isn’t there. They shine a spotlight on the many areas where she is … admittedly … lacking.

I find it very fitting that Shepherd was the other person involved, as he couldn’t be more opposite of Danica if he tried. He’s 68 years old, a proven talent who’s won dozens of races of the decades he has raced, and races on a shoestring budget because that’s what he loves to do and he’s good at it. He is cordial to his competitors and respected in the garage, as evidenced by all the help established Cup drivers have given him in the past with his race team.

Danica is a young woman with endless bucketloads of money behind her who has some racing talent. Money has allowed her to make this attempt to cross over to NASCAR, but at this point it’s clear that her racing talent isn’t translating to stock cars so far.

She seems to have a lack of respect for people, which has been shown many times in Indycar. After the New Hampshire race, she bumped Morgan Shepherd, a classless act against a man who had done her no wrong. If she hadn’t crowded him so much when he was faster than her, she wouldn’t have wrecked. In fact, if she were smart, Danica would seek racing advice from veteran drivers like Morgan Shepherd, not try to get on their bad sides.

To his credit, Shepherd was not upset by her actions, and simply said she was holding up cars, has a lot to learn and should give faster cars more room in the future, and even tried to find her to apologize … which a lot of people (Danica, for instance) probably wouldn’t even consider. He stated that he doesn’t run into people on purpose, something fans know if they watch the races, something I don’t think Danica has been doing much of lately, to her detriment.

So I’ll close on this: All in all, not the best weekend for Danica. Some will say her comments prove she doesn’t even belong in a racecar on the stock car side, especially with so many talented drivers out of rides or start-and-parking due to lack of funds. That may or may not be the case, but she is here to stay, at least for the short-term. So while she’s here, I just have this advice.

Do your homework, Danica. Watch the races and learn about the role contact plays in these races, figure out how to drive these cars and pass your competitors properly, run some more ARCA or late model races if necessary to get used to the contact and passing in stock cars. There’s no half-stepping it from here, because if there are many more repeats of this horrible day, the Danica-to-NASCAR experiment may have been doomed from the start.

Enough with the babying, ESPN
On the broadcasting end, I continue to be completely turned-off by the way ESPN and its broadcasters continue to baby Danica, like she deserves their sympathy and support constantly. Take the Lap 7 incident, for example. Some of the broadcasters instantly blamed Shepherd, until Dale Jarrett finally chimed in that the driver on the outside has a responsibility to leave some room for the inside car and not race so tight.

After the race, the interview with Danica was more like a pep talk … a “you go get ’em next time, girl” type of thing. They kept talking about how her times got better as the day went on. That’s true, and should be noted, but how about asking her a hard question for once, like you would with any other driver after a day like that?

Tweet of the day
From former NASCAR driver Bill Lester, who is currently in the GrandAm series (@BillLester7): "Danica is the most talked about 30th place finisher in the history of NASCAR. Where was all this when I finished 30th??"

Become a fan of the Facebook page NASCARBeyond


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nascar is the only race promoter that allows deliberate contact. That's why Nascar has the least interesting racing. The Continental race shown yesterday was great. Stock ( apperaing)bodies; Camaro, Subaru, Mustang, Honda, Porche, BMW etc. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, all wheel drive, front engine, rear engine all running together. Great competitive racing for hour, with no lap logging just close racing all day. When there was "avoidable contact" penalties were assessed.

Look at The British, Ausralian , German series: the same can be said.

Danica has been around. She has raced for years Worldwide. Her surprise that Nascar is the only organization that condones and approves unnecessary contact and deliberate wrecks sould astonish noone.

June 27, 2010 at 10:04 AM 

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