HY PE Danica Patrick starts her full-time NASCAR conversion with the stars of the sport wishing her the best…but preparing her for one of racing’s biggest culture shocks.
Words Tom Jensen Main Image Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Strip away the hype, the publicity, the emotions, the gender discussions and look at the cold, hard numbers and it’s clear that Danica Patrick’s transition to NASCAR will
be the biggest challenge she’s faced in her career.
Regardless of what one thinks of her driving ability – good,
bad or indifferent – those who have arrived in NASCAR from the
open-wheel ranks have struggled mightily adapting to low-downforce, weak-braking, high-center-of-gravity Sprint Cup cars.
Sam Hornish, a three-time IndyCar champion, washed out
of the Cup Series after posting just two top-five finishes in 109
starts. Former Champ Car ace AJ Allmendinger is winless in 142
starts, during which time he’s had but four top fives and ex-Red
Bull Formula 1 pilot Scott Speed has fared no better.
Even the mighty Juan Pablo Montoya, winner of seven
Formula 1 grands prix, the Indianapolis 500 and a former
CART/IndyCar champion, has yet to win
on an oval in 171 Cup starts. And three-time
IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti,had
an average finish of 34. 3 in his 10 career
starts with Chip Ganassi’s Cup operation.
“She’s impressed a
lot of people…But I
think she still has a
long way to go”
Bullrings like Bristol are going to
be physically tough for Danica, but
doing the full Nationwide schedule
will speed up her learning process.
Set against that sort of historical
backdrop, Patrick’s biggest challenge
isn’t that she’s a woman; it’s that those
who have grown up driving open-wheel
racecars have had a horrible time
adapting to big, clunky stock cars. And
she likely will, too.
Nevertheless, Patrick is enthused
about her move to NASCAR, which in
2012 will consist of a full-time ride in the
No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet Impala,
with eight to 10 races behind the wheel
of a third Stewart-Haas Racing Sprint
Cup car. Her teammates and competitors
are welcoming her with open arms.
“We’re excited about it,” says Tony
Stewart. “She’s putting 100 percent into it
and she is definitely deserving of an
opportunity like this. We’re excited and
honored that she chose to do it with us.”
“We have seen Danica improve a lot
to get to the point where she’s at now,”
says 2003 Cup Series champion Matt
Kenseth, “and I think it will be a good
next step for her to do the Nationwide
Series every week.”
Good, yes. Easy? Not so much.
“Danica still has to prove herself
from a performance standpoint,” states
four-time Sprint Cup Series champion
Jeff Gordon. “She’s impressed a lot of
people with some of her performances
this year. But I think she still has a long
way to go. She’s great for the sport. It’s
awesome to have her announce she’s
going full time. We’ll just have to wait and
see how she does in a full [Nationwide]
season and in those select Cup events. It
should be very interesting.”
What Patrick brings to the table are