The Frontstretch: Like It Or Not, The Danica Express Is Coming To Save A NASCAR Near You by Phil Allaway -- Wednesday December 9, 2009

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Well, with Tuesday’s announcement (not broadcast on television, but streamed online at that Danica Patrick will run a limited schedule in the Nationwide Series in 2010, along with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/Max and Menards race at Daytona on February 6, the question of whether Danica will try stock cars or not is finally answered. I’m personally happy that this media blitz is now over.

However, now that the word is out, the prognostication will begin. How will Danica adjust to stock cars with extremely limited testing? History is not on Danica’s side here. Drivers that have come from the open wheel ranks (IndyCar Series, the former CCWS) to NASCAR have typically struggled early on. Jimmy Vasser only made two Busch starts in 2003, although he did run well at Daytona until getting taken out in Mike McLaughlin’s crash. Dario Franchitti’s struggles last season in the No. 40 in Sprint Cup were a stark contrast to his past success. Paul Tracy never produced all that much in his few NASCAR starts. Scott Speed has struggled in Sprint Cup, as has Sam Hornish Jr., and even Juan Pablo Montoya has struggled at times since he came to stock cars at the end of 2006.

I don’t believe that Daytona will be any problem for her. In fact, the 200-mile ARCA race could serve as a legitimate test session for her, since ARCA announced recently that Nationwide cars are now eligible to run in the series. As a result, JR Motorsports could legitimately bring the car she would run in the 300 mile Nationwide race down to the track a week early so that she could get used it, with some alterations so that the car will met ARCA regulations.

Truthfully, at this point, the Nationwide Series can use all the publicity that it can get. It’s arguable that they are roughly where the Champ Car World Series was in 2005, with waning interest and a low car count. In addition. the series has had to fight off accusations that it is nothing but “Cup Lite” for most of the decade, especially in the last few years with full-time Cup drivers winning the last four series championships. So getting Danica to race there is nothing short of a coup. She brings droves of her fans to the table, and it’s up to NASCAR and the tracks (whichever ones in addition to Daytona that she races at) to take advantage of this opportunity to draw in those fans. We know GoDaddy will hold up their end of the bargain marketing-wise… now, the sport needs to follow suit.

Of course, Danica also brings in sex appeal with her to NASCAR (see Peak Antifreeze and GoDaddy commercials, SI Swimsuit shoots, etc.), and this could potentially end up being controversial. I’ll admit that I really don’t care about her little ad campaigns and photo shoots, but it may turn off some other race fans. GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons mentioned on Tuesday that there will be different kinds of ads used to publicize Danica’s Nationwide activities, but he didn’t really go into details. This is something to look out for over the next couple of years, though.

Danica Patrick’s stock car transition could mean she’s ready to bring her IndyCar career to a screeching halt, with speculation running wild that if things go well, she’ll replace a retiring Mark Martin full-time in his Sprint Cup Chevrolet in 2012.

Another issue that may haunt her is her, at times, confrontational nature. During her time in the IndyCar Series, Patrick has had multiple altercations with other drivers, once punching Jaques Lazier after a crash, and getting in well-publicized arguments with Dan Wheldon and Milka Duno after on-track incidents. This will not go over very well with her peers if she tries that stuff in the Nationwide Series. She’ll have to keep her emotions in check since, unlike in the IndyCar Series, retribution can be performed relatively easily and painlessly. Truth be told, I really don’t think this will be an issue, but you never know.

There are still some unknowns as to what Danica’s schedule will look like for 2010 in the Nationwide Series. Previously, it had been assumed that Danica would drive 12 or 13 races in the series next season, but the exact number was not announced on Tuesday. All that was announced was that she was coming to the series (along with the aforementioned ARCA race at Daytona), and that they unveiled the new No. 7 Chevrolet. Now, Danica is still dedicated to the Izod IndyCar Series, so the races that she will do in the Nationwide Series will not interfere with her open wheel responsibilities. This means that her schedule will be front and back loaded with NASCAR races, while the open wheel events take up most of the year.

For her part, Danica is definitely taking this opportunity seriously and wants to do well, as any normal driver would. It is unclear what many experts think that she could be capable of in her Nationwide starts, but let’s briefly take a look at what she has to work with.

First off, Tony Eury Jr., Dale Jr.‘s cousin (and recently announced as a co-owner of the race team), will be her crew chief. Say what you want about Eury, but he’s not a terrible choice. They could have easily done worse.

Second, she’s driving for JR Motorsports with guaranteed backing from GoDaddy. This is one of the best teams to drive for in the series. She’ll have support from Hendrick Motorsports as well, and we all know their strengths. She’s not going to be working with a bunch of scrubs.

Third, its still quite unclear who she’s going to be racing against in the Nationwide races, as there’s lots of open rides for 2010 at the moment. Of the teams that do make the grid for Daytona, there are likely to be quite a few start-and-park cars sprinkled among them.

And fourth, let’s not discount the fact that Danica actually has a great deal of natural skill behind the wheel. She’s not just some random woman who backed into the IndyCar Series because of sponsorship, like Milka Duno with CITGO. The IndyCar Series is very competitive, and she has run well in the series since she first entered it.

Do I think Danica is going to win a Nationwide race in 2010? No, I don’t. Maybe in 2011, but not next season. I think she’ll acquit herself just fine, though. Next year will be a learning experience, since Danica has never driven a race car as heavy as a Nationwide car (I’m not sure, but I think the heaviest race car she’s driven previously is either a Daytona Prototype in Grand-Am, or the Toyota Celica she drove in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race in Long Beach back in 2002. Of course, a Nationwide car has much more than the 168 horsepower that the Celica GT had). Staying out of wrecks should be a priority during her adjustment period.

Do I think Danica can be competitive in the Nationwide Series right away? At Daytona, yes. At the other tracks (which are unknown at this point) that she races at? More than likely, but it’ll be a little harder. I think that she can definitely get three or four top 10’s in 2010. A couple of those races might challenge for the best-ever finish by a woman in a Nationwide race (for those of you like me who love minutiae, that is a seventh place finish for Patty Moise at Talladega in July, 1995). In 2011, I could definitely see her improving on her performance next season, just based off of her improvement in the IndyCar Series. When it comes to Danica, the sky could be the limit if she plays her cards right…

Honestly, having Danica Patrick in the Nationwide Series, even for a limited schedule, should benefit the series in the long term. Yes, it would be nice if she was able to score a victory or two, but we cannot count on that happening right away. NASCAR should take advantage of this to promote their main feeder series and try to further differentiate it from Sprint Cup. How they choose to publicize this remains to be seen.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
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Ed - Georgia
12/09/2009 08:16 AM

Open wheelers have “typically” struggled? I don’t recall AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Tony Stewart and many others “struggling.” That doesn’t mean that Danica won’t, but she might have no problem.

12/09/2009 10:59 AM

As a long time nas$car whose been on the fence for a while, this just gives me one more reason to not watch the sport. Don’t get me wrong, she looks good and she“s a DECENT IRL driver, but we all know this another bid desparation play by nas$car to attract more bandwagon fans. nas$car has chased a lot of their loyal long time fans with crap like this. You’ve got Erin Crocker busting her but off in the lower series’ and she can’t get a shot. What a joke. Maybe if she did some photo shoots with next to nothing on, she’d get a shot. This is all about publicity, plain and simple. Judging from the poll you took, I’d say I’m among the minority when I say I could care less. If I want to see babes in skimpy bikinis I’ll open my copy of SI swimsuits.

12/09/2009 11:05 AM

So Nationwide cars are now allowed in the ARCA series. Are we now going to see 10 cup drivers in an ARCA race? woo hoo!!!!!!!!!

12/09/2009 12:20 PM

Indycar does not have “Droves” of fans so how can she? Looks like some marketing people are trying to bamboozle everyone.

12/09/2009 12:24 PM

Erin Crocker had her chance, she drove several truck races a few years ago. The reason she hasn’t been back is because she wasn’t good. Give Danica a chance, I don’t think she will be an instant success, but she has talent.

Bad Wolf
12/09/2009 01:11 PM

This just shows how desperate Nascar is, and this is nothing more than a gimmick to get ratings up.

Bad Wolf
12/09/2009 01:14 PM

She’s not even that hot. Without all the make up, camera angles and air brushing she looks pretty average.

12/09/2009 01:18 PM

Driving a race car well , requires great eye sight , exceptional balance and coordination , and quick reflexes . Winning races requires all of the above along with a very competitive personality . Certain males or females can and do have all of those traits . The type of car or the type of track doesn’t have as much to do with a drivers success as you might think .
Danica has been very good in the IRL , very good in the Europeon Road Racing series she competed in earlier in her career , and will do well in NASCAR or any other type of racing she chooses .

12/09/2009 02:05 PM

About Danica’s “confrontational nature”: We want her to act like Stewart, Montoya, Hamlin…all calm and collected. Or maybe Harvick, Kurt Busch, and the great JJ when they first came into Nascar. Why would we want more from this driver than we did from the drivers of the past who also did and still do have a confrontational nature?

Give this young lady a chance to succeed or fail on her own without predetermining the end results. At least she has the courage to try to do something new.

The Old Guy
12/09/2009 02:38 PM

Ed-Georgia. The three drivers you mention are the exceptions to just about every rule. One of them, A J Foyt, may very well be the greatest race car driver of all time.


Danica will struggle as have most of the others who have tried to make the switch.

If Rick Hendrick puts his marbles behind Patrick, it won’t be at the expense of JG & JJ. So, you can guess who the odd man out will be. Yes, Jr., the most over rated driver in the history of NASCAR.

12/09/2009 03:22 PM

And as we all know , the chemistry between driver and crew chief/crew makes a huge difference in whether or not a driver and team is successfull . If she is in the right situation , with the right crew , she’ll be fine .
AJ Foyt IS the best of all time , no maybe about it .

12/09/2009 04:35 PM

Give Danica credit for giving NASCAR a try
Its possible she wont even make it to the CUP level
Them cars are hard to drive
Ask Dario and Sam

Mike in Floyd Va
12/09/2009 04:42 PM

If a female driver was going to move over to NA$CAR from the IRL, it should’ve been Sarah Fisher. She gave the Winston West Series a try for a couple of years and went back to the IRL because of the amount of time it was taking to make the transition to the Top 3 Tiers of NA$CAR. So she went back to the IRL. She knew her limitations. Her performance wasn’t that bad in a “taxi cab”.

We’ll see if Danica can drive a “taxi cab” or if she’s more worried about her marketing and branding as she’s said in recent interviews.

Richard in N.C.
12/09/2009 07:51 PM

Maybe Danica will draw more interest and viewers to the Nationwide series, which just might draw the interest of more sponsors to the series, which just might help several teams to be more competitive and keep people employed – which just might make some NASCAR bashers choke. Sounds good to me.

David in Texas
12/09/2009 09:27 PM

Hey Danica, It’s me, a “stock car” racing fan. I need you to do me a huge favor.

Could you please take your name off of my stock cars? NA$CAR just went through my stock cars and they’ll probably be calling you.

I need you to do this for me. Quickly. Huge.

12/09/2009 09:40 PM

I can’t wait to hear the radio between her and Eury. How long will it take for her to speak Suthren? She’ll probably start with “ Hay Joonyer. We goin’ back to the Whiskey t’nite? I sure had me a fine time last nite and you can sure GoDaddy. That ole Tony, he sure is mean. He keeps tryin to tell me how to drive that stupid car but I jest don’t git it. I’m sure you can relate, cantcha Sweety. Let’s just go on down to the Whiskey and forget ‘bout all this stuff. Lord knows we can afford it. HEE HEE.

Tom Bowles - FS Staff
12/10/2009 02:19 AM

David in Texas…

That might be the post of the year. Loved it…

12/10/2009 11:46 AM

It is sad that NASCAR is sinking this low. I mean this woman has won ONE race in Indycar.

I compare her to Anna Kournikova. She doesn’t really have the talent, but uses her sex appeal to get attention. She has done as much in Indycar as Sarah Fisher. The only difference is that Sarah Fisher has not done photo spreads in a bathing suit and other sexy attire.

She might as well drive a car for Jr. in my opinion. This way, we have the most over-rated driver in Indycar driving a NASCAR stock car for the most over-rated driver/owner in NASCAR.

Mike In NH
12/10/2009 05:31 PM

Scott: She also came in 5th in points in IRL this year. Something the other 19 or so racers behind her would love to have done. She also won a race in 2008. She does have skills and talent.

Whether they translate to NASCAR is anyone’s guess. She did test back in 2004 and impressed Steve Addington, who was there for the test, a lot. But whether this means anything, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Turnip!
12/14/2009 03:17 PM

Hey Ed-Georgia! The drivers you listed had another thing going for them, and that’s back in the days when race cars were real race cars, and in fact they used to hold back-to-back Indy car, and Stock Car races on the same track, same afternoon, so converting to a “stock car” from and “Indy Car”, was something already accomplished!

Today however, Danica, as an example, would be converting from an Indy Car, a “REAL” race car, to a NA$CRAP “POS”!

So her learning curve is going to be STEEP!

And it does not matter what one thinks about her talent, or achievements in racing, it is simply about the money! You bring money to the table, you drive a race car! Simple as that!

And I would love to see a Sarah Fisher in a “stock car”, but as we all know, sex appeal makes money! Ask Milka Duno! If anyone wants to criticize a female driver for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it is Milka! ONLY because of her hot looks, not her talent (whatever talent she may have anyway).

And hey Scott! Say what? Danica races wheel to wheel with the best of them! Week in, week out! And as I see it, she proved herself FIRST as a REAL INDY CAR DRIVER, then the “sex appeal” thing came along! Not vice-versa!

And, David in Texas/Tom Bowles??? SAY WHAT? I read Davids post several times, sorry, I don’t get it! What am I missing?

But then again, I am just a NA$CRAP raised TURNIP! Dumb as rocks!

12/14/2009 07:04 PM

Wish her the best of luck.Whatever happens,That’s the way it is.

12/15/2009 01:00 AM

What’s the big deal? If Patrick makes it, she makes it. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t.

Guy or girl? Who cares? The talent’s the thing, and I’m willing to offer a guess that she’s better than some of the folks on the track already, such as those who get a ride because they bring sponsor money rather than bringing talent. Time will tell.

For those who won’t watch because a “girl” is on the track, they aren’t much when it comes to being fans. I doubt that many will miss them.The races are the thing, not the gender.