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Friday, November 2, 2012

Danica Patrick's weak 2012 performance shows jump to full-time Cup ride in 2013 is rushed

It's time to get honest about Danica Patrick.

Observation 1: Her Nationwide season has not gone as hoped, to say the least. In her first full year she has 1 pole and 3 top 10 finishes in 30 starts, and she's driving pretty decent equipment for Jr. Motorsports. She's barely in the top 10, leading Joe Nemechek and his shoestring budget team by just 4 points, and Nemechek missed a race and has 1 top 10 all year.
Translation: Danica is not finishing very well this year. She's getting into accidents of her own making, and not making the progress that would properly prepare her for a full Cup season in 2013.

Observation 2: If her Nationwide season qualifies as disappointing, the Sprint Cup races she's attempted have been atrocious: She has finished: 38, 31, 30, 29, 29, 25, 28, 32. 
Somehow, some way, the folks at Stewart-Haas Racing believe that a lackluster Nationwide season and a terrible Cup tryout are good enough preparation for her to go full-time in Cup in 2013.

Observation 3: Danica is not ready for Cup racing. I heard a commentator say today that, "She's got the speed. She just needs to work on the racing". Um, that's pretty telling. It's true that she can be a very fast driver (the pole position and decent qualifying efforts prove that), but in race conditions she often gets herself into very bad situations and doesn't know how to properly react.

Amid all this, there is talk she wants to run the Indy 500 next year, in addition to the full Cup season and a partial Nationwide season. Partial Nationwide is a good move if she can make it happen; but the Indy 500 would just be a distraction, and only lengthen her learning curve in stock cars. I wouldn't recommend it, despite the draw of wanting to win at the Brickyard.
FYI: I'm not saying Patrick never be a driver in the league of the Cup-level drivers. I'm just saying that at this moment in time, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, "(she) ain't even in the same ballpark"

She is clearly a talented racecar driver on some level, but from what I've seen in NASCAR so far from Danica, the transition has been rough. She would be wise (though I know it's too late to change course) to do another full year in Nationwide and improve more before doing a full Cup season (just like Joey Logano should have done for the Gibbs team, he was also rushed up to Cup). I predict a 2013 season for Patrick that is full of 20s and 30s finishes, because quite simply most of the other drivers on track are more talented in a Cup car than her. She'll beat the start and parks, maybe some mid-packers, but that's it. She won't be battling Jimmie Johnson for a lead; she'll be lucky to be on the lead lap any given Sunday.

Patrick, speaking at Texas Motor Speedway this week, reflected on her journey in NASCAR so far.

“I have just transitioned through quite a bit over these years.  It was just coming every month or so into the car and doing a race and trying to get comfortable quickly after driving and IndyCar for a while.  There was that transition for two years then this being the first full time year then sort of sprinkling in some Cup races then next year going full time Cup.  That is a lot of transitions and a lot of changes and a lot of things to get used to whether it is new cars, new schedules or new crew chief.  It’s just been a lot to get used to, but I think that it all helps me adapt quicker.  It helps me focus on what being more specific with my words and being more poignant with what I want.  There has been a lot that I have learned for sure and I have a lot left to learn.  Just understanding the cars and how they change from practice to the race and how they change throughout the race.  Those are things that are just so much more unique to NASCAR than they are to IndyCar I feel.  In IndyCar you could set the car up in practice and it would feel the same in qualifying and the race for the most part of adapting some weather changes to the downforce levels to that they were equal.  You could calculate that.  There is a lot more transitions within the weekend itself in NASCAR.  So getting used to that has been something I am still learning.”

I agree, she is still learning, and the Nationwide series is the best place for her to do that. If you struggle to be a top-10 Nationwide driver while driving strong equipent, I don't think you're ready for Cup. And to be fair, that goes for any up-and-coming Nationwide driver, not just Danica.

I know Cup is where the money is at, and Danica is certainly good at making money, but it's safe to say that the rush to get her to Cup is going to make the Stewart-Haas Racing team look a little silly next year.

Maybe she'll prove me wrong, and it would be a great success story if she did, but I wouldn't bet on it



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