NASCAR Season Preview: Danica Patrick

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing

Born: March 25, 1982

Home: Beloit, Wisconsin

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: In her second limited schedule of Nationwide Series events for JR Motorsports, Patrick cracked the top five for the first time by finishing fourth at Las Vegas. She also announced that she would leave the IndyCar circuit to run the full Nationwide schedule for JRM in 2012, while preparing to transition to Sprint Cup in 2013 with Stewart-Haas Racing.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Patrick’s full-time IndyCar swan song was about as unfocused and uninspired as any results she’s ever posted. For the first time since 2006, Patrick failed to post a podium finish. Her average finish of 12.4 was her lowest since 2005, her rookie year. Patrick lagged at road and street courses, especially in qualifying, and only took a top 10 spot in IndyCar points by two markers over Helio Castroneves.

SEASON OUTLOOK: It only took about half a decade for somebody to finally get Danica to bite the stock car apple, as the brighter spotlight and full-time tutelage of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (in the Nationwide Series) and Tony Stewart (in Sprint Cup) were too great of temptations for Patrick to resist. Then again, with her performance nearly relegating her to fourth best out of four at Andretti Autosport, her former IndyCar team, the decision to leave the series that made her name might not have been as difficult. None of the top IndyCar teams were going to bid for her services, and the personnel ready to aid her transition to stock cars is top notch; Patrick’s Sprint Cup crew chief will likely be new Stewart-Haas competition director Greg Zipadelli, the man who led Stewart to his 2002 and 2005 championships.

Jumping from 29 combined races to 43 will be no easy task, however, especially when many of those races will be much longer than IndyCar events. That’s not to say that Patrick is somehow not fit or talented enough to compete in all 43 (33 Nationwide, 10 Sprint Cup), but keeping the intense promotional schedules of a world-famous advertising spokeswoman in mind, 2012 will be the busiest year of Patrick’s life. That’s a big reason why many of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, including Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart, run only one-off Nationwide events and focus on their Sprint Cup schedules. But while Patrick may be in for a rude awakening to that end that affects her race finishes, everybody involved is aware that this is a learning year for 2013. The finishes may be subpar on the Sprint Cup level this time around, but come her rookie campaign next year, she’ll be ready to contend.

– Chris Leone


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