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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Strong California run shows there’s hope for Danica Patrick after all

Most Nationwide drivers wouldn’t be too happy after running in the teens all day and finishing 30th due to being shoved into the wall in a wreck not of your own making.

But for Danica Patrick, that was actually a pretty good day … and I mean that in a positive way.

You see, a couple months ago, I watch Danica race at Michigan International Speedway. As soon as the race started, she fell back so fast you would think she was standing still. She had a horrible day, impressing nobody and making many think she couldn’t handle a NASCAR ride. Earlier this year, she was saying things on her radio that made her look like a complete amateur, and was appropriately called out for not doing her homework before jumping in a NASCAR ride.

Something must have happened between then and now, because until she was dumped by James Buescher for no apparent reason, Danica was running on the lead lap most of the day and actually passing some people … as opposed to being passed by backmarkers in no-budget cars like she had been doing for most of her abbreviated NASCAR season.

There’s no need to get too excited just yet, as this was just one race and no one’s going to pick her to run up front next week with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski any time soon

But I have to admit that seeing Danica, brand new to NASCAR, hold her ground and race well against people who have been doing this for years, after so many weeks of apparent ineptitude, is a sign that maybe this whole NASCAR experiment won’t be a complete bust.

Forget the final finishing number, California was a career day for Danica in NASCAR, and she showed that if she decides to make the leap to the stock car side, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that she could compete toward the front. I’ve doubted her as much as everyone else, and still will until she becomes a consistent competitor, but the extreme anti-Danica crowd has a lot less ammunition after her solid run Saturday. She didn’t set the world on fire, but she held her own and showed competetence … and that’s a first step toward running up front.

With no more jumping back and forth between Indycar and stock cars, Patrick can now focus on her ride in the Nationwide series as she runs the next five races in a row. This will be a key stretch of her young NASCAR career, as we see what a focused Patrick can do if she keeps her mind in one place. She has a good car under her, and if she can build on the California momentum and get some more good runs in before the year ends, she’ll have done more than most people thought she could do on this side of the motorsports aisle.

It’s not quite a checkered flag, but it’s an important victory of a different kind.

Busch wins again in Nationwide
In other news, the sun came up Saturday. That’s how predictable these Nationwide races are becoming.

Chase etiquette?
On the heels of last week’s incident with Kyle Busch and David Reutimann, some of the drivers were asked whether the non-Chasers should race differently around Chase drivers. Jeff Gordon, a four-time champ, said he doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
“To me, you should not go into the Chase expecting guys that aren’t in the Chase to give you any extra leeway. That’s not the way it works. I had a heck of a battle with Ryan Newman last week and I felt like I was a lot faster than him. Had we got by him, it would have gotten us a couple extra spots. But he’s racing for position, racing for things that are important to him and he didn’t want to budge or give up on that so I respected that.”

Bowyer forgets controversy, has some fun
Fresh off a couple controversial weeks, Clint Bowyer said he has put the penalty over his illegal New Hampshire car behind him and focused on having fun this past week.

“I put it behind me. Last week in Kansas, I went on an elk hunt, my phone didn’t work for three days, then we went to Vegas and enjoyed ourselves for another couple of days. It was a hell of a good week. I got to enjoy it with some racers—Elliott Sadler, Bobby Labonte, Kasey Kahne and Dale Jarrett—just a good group of good guys,” Bowyer said.

“You normally don’t get the chance during the season to enjoy some of the guys you race against; those are some of the best characters in the business, so I really, really enjoyed this week and had a lot of fun. I didn’t worry about anything to be honest with you. Sometimes it’s neat to be able to just go out and get away completely, and I’m talking like completely away and enjoy yourself. It was a well needed week."

Daytona testing
It’s been a while since testing was done on a sanctioned NASCAR track, but with a repaving of Daytona being done, the drivers will spend a few days in January breaking in the new track.

“This allows everyone an equal opportunity to work on their setups and get everything in order leading up to Speedweeks and the running of the Daytona 500,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “Additionally, it gives the teams the chance to get accustomed to the new pit road and the added run-off areas on the backstretch. We’re excited about the new surface and believe it will only enhance the racing experience at Daytona.”

I’m pretty sure a good thing. I don’t want any more potholes to delay my Daytona 500 viewing plans.

This event, scheduled from Jan. 20-22, is also an opportunity for fans to get an up-close look at the sport. During NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona, fans can watch the on-track activity and fans can enjoy two Fan Fest sessions – 5-9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21 and 5-7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 22. Driver question-and-answer and autograph sessions are planned. Tickets for the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest are $20. Fans also can watch each day’s testing at no cost from a section of the Oldfield Grandstands.

“The test is going to serve as a great opportunity for fans to interact with their favorite drivers in advance of Speedweeks 2011 and the 53rd annual Daytona 500,” said Joie Chitwood, Daytona International Speedway president.

In addition, teams from the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are expected to receive extra practice time during Speedweeks.

Zac Brown Band to entertain fans

NASCAR announced this week that a two-day fan fest in Miami will featuring a free concert in South Beach headlined by Zac Brown Band. It will be part of Ford Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the concert will be streamed live on NASCAR.COM so fans around the world can check out the show.

The band has previously performed at the October 2009 Talladega race and the 2010 Budweiser Shootout At Daytona.

Fans in attendance at the fan event can take part in driver question-and-answer sessions, and contests such as “Fast Lane Trivia”. Fans also will be able to drive race car simulators, change tires in a pit crew challenge, test their skills piloting remote-controlled cars, get their photographs taken inside a stock car, check out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy and more.

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