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Monday, February 25, 2013

True test for Danica Patrick begins at Phoenix; and she's in for a bumpy road this rookie season

Danica Patrick had about as good a weekend at Daytona as she could have hoped for.
She was fastest in several practice sessions, got the pole for the 500, and ran up front all day. With nobody able to pass, she was right there and could have easily taken advantage and gone for the win if the leaders had gotten tangled up at the end of the race.
That’s not bad for someone who is competing for Rookie of the Year.

But now the real test begins for Danica. She is away from the plate tracks, where she is very adept, and back to the grind of the downforce tracks. These are the places where she has traditionally struggled in her time in the sport, and they make up 90 percent of the races. Last year, she was regularly finding herself laps down at these tracks, because it’s a whole different ballgame. When we go to Phoenix next week, it’s pretty much a guarantee that Danica won’t lead practice sessions, win the pole or be in any sort of headlines like she was during Speedweeks. The reality is that she’ll likely struggle, like most rookies do (it’s not just her), and finish the race in 25th, 2 laps down.

And it’s very likely she’ll do the same a lot of other weeks this year. The fact is she’s a rookie, albeit a very high-profile rookie, and there is just no way she can live up to the level of success that Daytona brought her. And I’m pretty sure she knows that.

She’ll try her best every week, but all her new fans who just started rooting for her are in for a big wakeup call.
“Why is Danica a lap down?” will be a regular comment from these folks if they keep tuning in. And if that keeps happening, they might end up tuning out.

I’m not saying that Danica will never compete on a weekly basis with guys like Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. She has shown she has the talent to succeed at this level — at some point in the future, once she goes through the learning curve everyone else already has (remember, Brad Keselowski’s rookie season was no walk in the park).

But it’s not going to happen this year. Danica will have her flashes of greatness, but most weeks will be a struggle, and that’s part of being a rookie.

So she better not be expecting a repeat of Daytona every week; or she’s going to be in for a lot of disappointment


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