The NASCAR Nationwide series is 21 races into a 33 race season and for one relative newcomer, this has not been the best of years. Danica Patrick drives full-time for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Junior Motorsports team. But whatever visions of grandeur for the 2012 season there were, have come to a screeching halt after Patrick finished last at Watkins Glen. She crashed on the first lap and eventually was credited with two laps for the #7 Chevrolet before parking the racecar. Yes, she was 43rd and last.
Why she finished last was simply because of an engine problem caused by a first lap wreck due in part to the fact she started in the back-half of the field. That's how you end up being collected by others around you. However, her last place isn't just an uncharacteristic instance but rather an additional bad race compounded with other past bad races. This poor season just can't be easy. So, as a fan, I'm thinking IndyCar can't look too bad to Patrick at this juncture.
Patrick's season has had a glimmer here and there of hope; however, for the majority of the season, the team, car and driver have underperformed. But, it didn't always look so abysmal.
The season started off with a pole at Daytona. Patrick has shown a knack at the faster tracks and she certainly demonstrated good form to begin with. But then she finished 38th and Daytona appeared to be a snapshot of the rest of the Nationwide year.
The sixth race at Texas found her in the Top 10 (eighth) for the first time in 2012 … but that was it. Patrick would never peek into the Top 10 again. Yes, she had a few instances where she should have had a better conclusion than her actual finish represented such as Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin. But whatever luck Patrick has had, well it's been bad luck.
Patrick has averaged little better than a 15th place start which isn't all that good but then you look at her average finishes, it's a dreadful 21st. All things considered, that 12th place average finish in IndyCar last season doesn't look bad at all.
Cup even worse
She's crashed out to the point of parking the car six times during her first full-time year in Nationwide. So maybe you ask how about her three races in Sprint Cup? Uh, maybe you shouldn't ask. She had a 38th, a 31st and a 30th so far.
Patrick has finished 86% of her laps in Nationwide this season. But when compared to IndyCar from last season, she was able to finish over 99% of the laps, driving the #7 Andretti Autosport car. And speaking of her former team, that same IndyCar - considering they have new engines and chassis from when Patrick drove - is now driven by Canadian James Hinchcliffe and he has the #7 car in fifth place. Patrick had no top fives last season and Hinchcliffe has five top fives in 2012.
Although she is an insignificant 11th in the Nationwide standings, Patrick will be running full-time in Sprint Cup next year regardless of what she does in Nationwide. Her Nationwide teammate is a young rookie in Cole Whitt, who is 7th in points and has accumulated eight Top 10s this season to her one.
GoDaddy.com, her major benefactor, hasn't said anything derogatory about their investment. Danica Patrick seems resolute if nothing else in her determination to improve week-in and week-out, even with the dismal season - and that's to be commended. Everyone says she listens and learns such as taking tips from Ron Fellows for the upcoming road race in Montreal (source - Examiner).
However, in the back of her mind, Patrick must be rethinking her foray into the world of stock car racing in comparison with American open wheel racing. But then again, she had very limited success in IndyCar so maybe this NASCAR gig isn't so bad.
It will be interesting to watch her finish out the rest of the season and she still has about a half dozen Cup races during this 2012 stretch to get acclimated to the big-time Cup racing. But why stay in NASCAR if she's finishing in the back of the pack?
The money alone is a good reason to stay in stock cars. That, and she had a huge marketable fan-base, but to grow even bigger, she needed to move to where more people were.
So, is she really rethinking her move from IndyCar to NASCAR? Probably not. She's made nearly a million dollars in NASCAR this year. And that doesn't count what she now makes contractually with her sponsor GoDaddy.com. She's smart. She's going where the money is.
Sources - IndyCar, 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.
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