The 2012 NASCAR season is nearly upon us and I’ll begin my coverage this year with a three-part series on NASCAR female drivers likely to make a mark in 2012.
2012 represents the first season Danica Patrick won’t split time between NASCAR and the IRL. However, she will be somewhat splitting time between her full-time Nationwide ride at JR Motorsports (JRM), and her part-time Sprint Cup machine at Stewart-Haas racing (SHR). Not that we don’t see her all the time on the GoDaddy.com commercials, but who is she and where did she come from? And why is she making such a buzz in the NASCAR circles? But perhaps more importantly, will this be the year to make her big break into NASCAR history, or will she end up in the pits?
Since bursting on the Indycar Racing League (IRL) and open-wheel racing scene in 2005, this 29-yr old Wisconsin native qualified fourth in the Indy 500 (the highest qualifying female yet), and the only female to ever lead laps in the Indy 500, she’s been quite the underdog. Always making a scene (not necessarily in a bad way), she has not had a huge amount of success getting into Victory Lane. She was the 2005 IRL Rookie of the Year, and the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. She’s also been the most successful female race car driver, both from her performance on the track, but also off the pavement.
Don’t let her good looks and seemingly pleasant demeanor fool you; I’ve seen her drive in a Nationwide race at Las Vegas in 2010, and I’m not expecting her to just wilt and cower behind the wall. She’ll cuss nearly as badly as Kurt Busch if someone gets into her unnecessarily. So, I’ll maintain a bit of optimism for her that she won’t take much flack from drivers if they try to get her sideways on the track this season.
Remember that although she was taken out of the 2010 event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a crash, Patrick rebounded to finish fourth in the 2011 outing, making her the highest-finishing woman in NASCAR’s top circuit.
Danica’s major job in 2012, will be to continue as the driver of the Nationwide Series #7 GoDaddy.com Chevy for JR Motorsports and team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Patrick’s run the last two seasons on a part time basis for JRM, as she vied for wins both in NASCAR but also in IRL. She’ll have Tony Eury Jr once again calling the shots from the pit box.
Patrick will make her foray into NASCAR Sprint Cup competition driving the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevy for Stewart-Haas racing, with former #20 Home Depot Toyota crew chief Greg Zipadelli on top of the pit box. “Zippy,” formerly SHR Team owner and 2011 NSC Champion Tony Stewart’s crew chief, has joined the team as director of competition, and will make the pit calls for Danica in the ten NSC races she’ll enter this 2012 season.
The races Patrick intends to run include Daytona (February), Charlotte and Darlington (May); the summer Bristol event (August); Atlanta, Chicago and Dover (September); Texas and Phoenix (November); with the tenth race still to be named.
To run the Charlotte race, she’s elected to forgo a possibility to once again race in the Indianapolis 500. Team owner Tony Stewart commented on the decision, saying, “It was her decision. We didn’t tell her that she couldn’t run the 500, it was left up to her.” Stewart continued, “But obviously she is running the Nationwide car full-time and it’s a good weekend to get a lot of laps in the car. It shows how dedicated she is to making this transition.” (Pete Pistone, CBSSports.com).
And in the media day recently, “Danica-Mania” as it’s called, made her an even bigger star than either of her bosses, Dale Jr or Tony Stewart.
Apparently, when ESPN.com reporter Terry Blount appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio recently, he was asked the question of whether we’ll see Dale Jr win the Daytona 500 and break his three-year winless streak, or Danica winning the 500 in her first Cup race. His answer was unquestionably, “Danica” (ESPN.com).
Patrick’s come a long way in the short time she’s run NNS races; I suspect her not running IRL and concentrating full-time on her NNS ride will allow her to improve by leaps and bounds. I’d love to Danica her go on to be the Rookie of the Year, but unfortunately she’s ineligible due to the number of races she ran last season.
One driver who is, although only not running a full-time schedule, is featured in the third of my three-part series on female drivers in NASCAR: Johanna Long.
So the principle question remains: Will Danica have her main success on the track, or will it be merely based on her running in NASCAR and all the on-air promotions one will see this year?
Answer: Only time will tell.
Be sure to check in next week for Part II: Jennifer Jo Cobb and her struggle to make it in NASCAR.
Copyright © sports-glutton.com, 2010-2012. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from sports-glutton.com is strictly prohibited.