Danica Patrick’s rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition has been a roller coaster to say the least. When the announcement was made that she would make the move to NASCAR’s top series, it quickly became one of the sports most divisive topics. While she has many supporters, made evident by the long lines at her souvenir trailer, she also has acquired many critics. A large number of race fans feel she “doesn’t deserve to be here” and that she “hasn’t paid her dues”.
With already being in the spotlight during the pre-season media tour, the season opening Daytona 500 only solidified her place there. Patrick surprised everyone by clinching the pole for the “Great American Race”. Instantly, the NASCAR talk shows lit up with callers saying “Anyone can qualify, she will go straight to the back!” Patrick did just the opposite however, staying in the top ten most of the day and finished in a very respectable eighth place.
After Daytona, the roller coaster took a downward turn. Patrick qualified no better than 37th over the next five races and the critics were having a field day with these stats. However Patrick’s finishing position was a different story. A blown tire ended her day after only 184 laps at Phoenix, relegating her to a 39th place finish. After Phoenix her finishes, though not great, did steadily improve each week. Patrick had a 33rd at Las Vegas, 28th at a tough Bristol track and 26th the following week at Fontana. This steady improvement was what crew chief Tony Gibson and car owner Tony Stewart were looking for.
The surprise of the season came the next week at Martinsville. A tough, flat half-mile track, known for being extremely difficult for rookie drivers. Patrick would start the race 32nd, but slowly and methodically work her way through the field. It looked as if she would grab her second top ten finish of the season, but late race contact with Brian Vickers, dropped her to 12th. A great finish for a rookie at Martinsville and probably a big hit to Las Vegas odds makers! No one expected Patrick to even finish the event much less with a solid very respectable finish.
Fast forward to the Aarons 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Talladega will be the second plate race of the season and Patrick is hoping to duplicate her earlier “plate track” success. She spoke to reporters Friday morning from the garage area, where she was asked about her expectations. Patrick responded saying, “ I suppose based on Daytona and how fast this car is, which is the same car we ran at Daytona, and how the race went. I suppose it’s fair to say that there should be a little spike in expectation, but you also have to take into consideration on these big speedways that there is a whole lot of luck that comes into it.”
Patrick will also get some extra track time over the weekend, as she will also compete in the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday. Patrick pointed out that she believes that racing on Saturday will help, “Yeah, the Nationwide race, that is why we are doing it. We are going to try to win and we are doing it to get a little more practice for Sunday.” Patrick will be driving the No.34 Chevrolet for Turner-Scott Motorsports.
It’s worth pointing out that while this season’s results have been up and down, we should remember that she is a rookie and she sits 26th in the standings, only four positions behind her boss, Tony Stewart.
Only time will tell if Patrick will be the first female to win a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Talladega is known for hosting many first time winners and could be the place for her to make history……..again!