Danica Patrick – Biggest NASCAR Non-Story of the Year

Although she finished 10th in the final NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings, few got more attention than the former Indy Car Racing driver.  Most of that attention, however, was the result of her gender, not her accomplishments.

Says Morris News Service writer Don Coble in his recent commentary “New Champ, Dodge’s Departure Highlight NASCAR Year” in yesterday’s Savannah Morning News.  In a sense, Coble is right in that Patrick was over hyped (as she’s been almost since the beginning of her Indy Car career) but he’s also wrong in that it is a story that she didn’t do as well in the equipment she was given.

After a partial 2011 season, many would have expected Patrick to race and finish better in Hendrick cars (Yes, I know it’s JR Motorsports but let’s be honest here – it’s a Hendrick team).  With the amount she’s being paid and the amount of attention her PR people and Go Daddy have been generating for her, it was fair to expect better results.  Personally, I wasn’t surprised.  She really doesn’t have enough experience to know what she’s looking for in NASCAR cars and historically, she’s not very good at working on the set up of a car throughout the course of a race.  That doesn’t make for a good combination. It also doesn’t bode well for her move to Sprint Cup full time; if she can’t work on the car to maintain or improve the set up during a 200-300 mile Nationwide race, she likely won’t be able to do it throughout the course of a 400-500 mile Sprint Cup race.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying she’s a bad race driver; even with the PR machine behind her, she has to have a certain amount of skill to be where she is.  I just think she’s more suited toward the shorter races of the Nationwide or IndyCar series than the longer Sprint Cup races.

On the other hand, if you were looking for a female NASCAR driver to make a story from, you wouldn’t have to look any farther than Johanna Long.  Racing for an underfunded team, she had far from top level equipment and finished 20th in the championship and flirted with the top 10 at Daytona, Iowa, and Kentucky.  Regardless, you could see that she can race well; the fact that she’s a former winner of the Snowball Derby tells you that.  I am genuinely interested to see what Long could do with Hendrick, Roush, or Gibbs level equipment.

Sadly, the biggest problem is that we’re discussing who the better female driver is.    Motor sport is one field of sport in which both genders can compete on an even playing field.   I look forward to the day when we don’t differentiate between female and male drivers.I wonder if we’ll ever get there?


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