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Sunday, March 6, 2011

A few more great runs like this, and Indycar will be in Danica Patrick's rearview mirror

Saturday’s Nationwide race at Las Vegas was not your typical affair.
Kyle Busch didn’t dominate all race – in fact, he made a mistake and ended up crashing himself out of the race – something that pretty much never happens.

And there was a special guest – Mark Martin – who used to win these things all the time back in the day and found himself in the right place at the end of the race to come home the surprise winner when Brad Keselowski crashed on the last lap.

But neither of those things was the headline Saturday … instead, it was ESPN’s favorite – Danica Patrick – actually earning her TV time for once.
Danica did a great job Saturday, finishing fourth to record the best finish by a female driver in NASCAR history.

Unlike some previous races, where the camera would linger on Danica as she toiled back in 30th … this was a great effort by Danica that deserved our attention.
Even before the broadcasters mentioned it, I noticed early on that she was doing better than usual. There was a hiccup when she got trapped a lap down, but when she was able to work her way back to the lead lap it was clear she was out to contend Saturday. When the race came down to fuel mileage (like her Indycar win in Japan did), it was possible she could even end up taking the checkered flag – an unthinkable idea after her rough start to her NASCAR career last season.

This season – and three good runs to get it started -- has shown that Danica is learning (and her team has put great coaches around her, so that was to be expected) and might just end up being a little better driver than the naysayers would have you believe. She no longer sounds clueless on the radio, as she did in the past at times, and has genuine hope for the future of her NASCAR career.

As someone who has in the past been somewhat of a naysayer, I would say that now there is at least hope she can succeed in stock cars. But let’s not go crazy with our expectations. One top-four finish does not mean she will be great every week. And she isn’t even running the whole season, so there’s always the chance she can get rusty during her time off.

One thing is for sure though: If she does continue to have success like she saw on Saturday, the Indycar series can pretty much say goodbye to her – as she’ll definitely make the move to NASCAR for 2012 if she thinks she can compete on a full-time basis. It was probably her plan already, but this run and more like it would solidify her plans without a doubt.

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