Life has gotten in the way of me seeing many races recently so I’ve been quiet on here. One of my last posts I said that Danica was showing signs of improvement. After Martinsville that trend reversed and she’s been on a downhill slide ever since. She hasn’t qualified well, she hasn’t practiced well and she hasn’t finished well. She had taken the lead in the Rookie of the Year battle with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but that has long since gone, with Ricky being a consistent top 15 to top 20 racer and even running up front from time to time. Meanwhile, Danica is fighting David Gilliand, Mike Bliss and other backmarkers for 30th. She even lost the draft at Talladega (where it was predicted she would run well) and after a caution brought the field back together she panicked when there was a wreck in front of her and drove up the track into one of the Labonte brothers and killed her car.
Last year I felt like she was being held back. She wasn’t racing for points in the Cup series and the important thing was to log laps and get experience in the Cup car at tracks she hadn’t been to in a stock car before. She did well with that and towards the end of the year they brought in Tony Gibson and let her loose a bit for Texas and Phoenix where she got top 20s at both tracks and would’ve gotten a top 15 or a top 10 at Phoenix if she hadn’t been wrecked by Jeff Burton. Now she was going full time into Cup this year and the hype was huge. Tony Stewart was saying how well she was doing and Tony Gibson was cheerleading her all the way. She snags the pole at Daytona and runs in the top 3 most of the day and then finishes 8th, largely due to not knowing how to race the Gen6 car at the end of a plate race. All of her previous experience at plate tracks used bump drafting and tandems so side drafting to pass was something that was a whole new thing. Reality hit after Daytona but like I said before, she was showing signs of improvement in the racing. Qualifying was poor consistently but practice speeds would improve from session to session and then she would finish much higher than her start by the end of the race. Track type didn’t matter. Short tracks, which had been her Achilles Heel, have given her the best finish of 12th other than Daytona. Mile and a halfs, which she had been better at, were now horrible for her.
This weekend she goes to Darlington and smacks the wall in practice and has to go to a backup car. No biggie, it happens to everyone sooner or later. Jimmie Johnson did it last year and countless others have done it this year and years before. The backup car was the car she drove last year at Darlington. She qualifies 40th and struggles throughout the day. She hits lap 29 and gets lapped. That would be the last time she saw the lead lap the entire race. She managed to finish and through some attrition scored 28th. Not horrible for a rookie, but not where she needs to be with the equipment and people around her.
She’s not in danger of losing her ride. She brings attention to the Go Daddy brand and Stewart Haas Racing and NASCAR as a whole, but I think we can probably say that she was moved up prematurely and as a result will continue to struggle until she runs out of contract and sponsor money or something clicks and she starts becoming competitive.
Personally I think she should be in the Nationwide Series. I think that’s where her talent level is at. She should be racing against Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Travis Pastrana, Sam Hornish Jr. and Justin Allgaier instead of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Dillon, Bayne and Allgaier were raised on stock cars. They are still struggling at times. Pastrana and Hornish come from other backgrounds like Danica, but have won at those levels and are still taking the time to learn the art of stock car racing. Look at other open wheelers and see how they struggle at the Cup level. Hornish was awful and Penske benched him and then put him in a Nationwide car where he has improved and won races and is contending for a championship. AJ Allmendinger, drug suspension not included, has struggled in Cup and never been more than a mid-pack driver. He’s going back to primarily an Indy Car driver for Penske. Juan Pablo Montoya has won a road course race but has struggled with Ganassi. JPM has won in Indy and been successful there and has had years in NASCAR now and still struggles. He shows flashes of brillance but most of the time you hear about him when he hits the wall or another driver or a jet dryer. The competition at Cup level is intense and Danica simply isn’t there yet. Tony Stewart may have to talk with Bob Parsons and make some tough decisions next year. Maybe he starts an SHR Nationwide program and runs her double duty for most of 2014. I think that would be wise, otherwise this whole thing will blow up in his face and everyone will scream “I told you she wasn’t any good!” and if the next driver to sit behind the wheel of the #10 car has any success at all then it will further drive the point home.
There is also the point to be made though that all of Stewart Haas Racing is not fairing well at the moment. Tony and Ryan barely managed to have semi decent days. Tony caught the wall late in the race that dropped him to 15th and Ryan finished in 10th after getting the Lucky Dog 3 times. Prior to that there wasn’t much to write home about. Ryan has been the best this year but it’s kind of like being the least stinky turd. They’ve been slow in practice, slow in qualifying and barely managed to squeak out top 15 finishes. It’s almost like they are getting second class motors. Tony is frustrated. Newman is in a contract year and the spotlight continues to burn on Danica. They are testing constantly and trying to find the speed, but something is lacking that Joe Gibbs racing and their chassis and motor partner Hendrick Motorsports have. Jimmie, Dale, Kasey, Jeff, Kyle, Denny and Matt are the class of the field week in and week out. Meanwhile Ryan Newman is in 17th, behind rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tony is in 21st and Danica is in 28th, behind Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin, who haven’t even run all of the races this year. Something has to change there.
I like Danica but I do wonder if there is something there that is dragging her teams down. In IndyCar last year Andretti Autosport won the championship with Ryan Hunter-Reay. This year James Hinchcliffe has won 2 races in the Andretti Go Daddy car and RHR has won 1 race. This is an Andretti Autosport team that couldn’t buy a win when Danica was there. Now the car has changed and some rules have changed, but the similarities remain. When Danica was on the team they didn’t perform. She’s gone and they are winning. Prior to Danica’s arrival to SHR they were winning races, contending for and winning championships and now that she’s arrived they are also-rans. Same at JRM. Now that she’s gone they are winning races and leading the championship standings with Regan Smith in the #7. There were some changes made with personnel at JRM but again, the results are the same.
Of course the driving factor to this is money. The sponsor wants the exposure at the Cup level and as long as the merchandise is selling it’s good business in the short term, but in the long term I think it hurts NASCAR, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart and any other female trying to break into the business.
We’ve seen flashes of talent from Danica. I want to see her succeed. She’s broken through areas where no other woman has but if she wants to just be thought of as a racer and not “Danica Patrick, Sexy Model, spokesperson and race car driver” then she needs to start racing like one. I want to see her prove all of the haters wrong. I’m not a hater but the Kool-Aid is starting to taste a little stale and I want her to show me that she can succeed.
I’m not asking that she win a championship. I’d like to see her be consistently competitive. No more racing third rate teams in the back of the field and finishing 6 laps down. I’d like to see her get mentioned for lapping cars instead of being lapped. I want the announcers and twitter to be amazed at how she narrowly avoids a wreck that happens right in front of her. I want to see her gain positions on restarts instead of dropping like a rock and becoming a moving chicane. Get up front and mix it up with Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Make everyone talk about what you’ve done, not who you are.