In a way, the question is rhetorical in that come 2013, Danica Patrick will be racing full-time in NASCAR Sprint Cup for Stewart-Haas Racing. She will be in the #10 Chevrolet with GoDaddy.com as the primary sponsor. But on the other hand, the question is an appropriate one. Will Patrick be ready to compete and contend regularly in the big-time?
Her current boss was ready
Her full-time season in Nationwide has arguably not achieved the success most expected. Of course, no one anticipates winning in their first full year of any series but then again, she has some of the best equipment in Nationwide, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and JR Motorsports. As a matter of fact, her Nationwide boss Earnhardt Jr. did indeed win a championship at age 23 (see related articles) in his first full season in Nationwide (Busch Grand National). And, he followed it up with another championship before moving on to Cup.
Patrick turned 30 this year and although her stock car driving experience is limited, as a former winner in the IndyCar series, Patrick is not a typical up-and-coming newcomer. But again, as far as Cup racing goes, she has currently only three starts: Daytona, Darlington and Charlotte, where she finished 38th, 31st and 30th. Not rousing auditions.
So-so at best
Also, her Nationwide season this year hasn't gone particularly well. Yes, Patrick has a pole from her first time out at Daytona this season but to date, she has yet to finish in the top five. And, when you stray too far back in the pack, bad things can happen and she's had plenty of wrecks this season. In fact, over 19 events so far in 2012, she has only one Top 10, which was an eighth at Texas back in April (source - Sporting News).
If you're looking for a silver-lining, Patrick hasn't been starting too badly, averaging a 13th place start with three top five starting positions. So she has a fast car and is capable of running in the Top 10 … but she hasn't. In fact, Patrick's average finishing spot is outside the top 20. Nothing to hang your hat on there.
Moving up to Cup with this rather poor resume is unheard of but then again, there aren't too many people like Danica Patrick. She has plenty of sponsorship, a giant fan-base, currently endless marketability and she easily handles the bright lights of the big-time. Oh yeah, and she's a woman - NASCAR is desperately seeking a big name female in their sport.
But to compare her current level of competition in Nationwide, consider this. With all her professional experience, she is 125 points behind her fellow teammate who's a rookie, Cole Whitt. He's just 21 and only a couple years removed from driving sprint cars and midgets for a living in California. Coming into this year, Whitt had driven only three races in Nationwide compared to Patrick's 25 races before the 2012 season began. Whitt is seventh in the standings, whereas Patrick is 10th.
But her powerful pull with sponsorship, whether you like it or not, will keep Patrick at the highest level of racing for some time to come. To that point, her sponsor's founder Bob Parsons said last year to ESPN: "As long as I can stroke the check. I tell you what, she doesn't exactly work for minimum wage. I usually don't get into that too much until the decision's been made. But I've told her I would sponsor her if she started ice skating." That may make some hard-core racing fans cringe but that's life in motorsports.
It's been said that Patrick is a fast learner. My next statement would normally be: 'She had better learn fast', but with no end in sight to the huge sums of money funding her, Patrick's going to get a chance to learn at her own speed.
So again, the question of whether she's ready or not for Cup is a moot point. She's going to be a full-time driver and probably for at least the next few years, she'll be able to see where that takes her.
But what do you think: Is she ready?
Sources - NASCAR, Racing Reference
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has blogged about every type of racing.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Danica Patrick