By Joe Dunn
Leading up to the first NASCAR race weekend of 2010, the two week media frenzy was not on 4 time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, but rather on IRL driver and Go Daddy girl Danica Patrick as she made her stock car debut.
As everyone can recall, her ARCA race at Daytona showed that she could run along with the ‘kids’ learning the trade and working for a shot to go NASCSAR racing. Her 6th place finish was touted as a great job and immediately the calls to put her in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Drive4COPD 300 were made. Sure enough she was placed in the No. 7 Go Daddy JRM/HMS Chevrolet, with predictions of her showing her talent in the NASCAR second tier series. Being in one of the best cars, with a winning team, at a track where the team has been known to dominate, with an average finish of 4.3 over the previous 3 years, the expectations were high.
Daytona is a track that most drivers agree that you need, a really fast car, able to work the draft smart and avoid the wrecks. She had one of the fastest cars on the track, but she showed early on that she was either clueless or afraid to work the draft. From the start of the race she steadily slid backwards. When the first wreck occurred in front of her, she had no idea how she missed the wrecked cars that had slid down the track before her. But when the next big happened in front of her, and her spotter repeated that the wreckers were staying high, she held a straight line, straight into the wreck, and then bounced off hitting the outside wall head-on. There was plenty of room for her to go low and miss the wrecks, which she didn’t do. Later she commented, “ I thought they would just get out of the way like the last time.” That ended her day finishing 35th in the field.
After a not so good finish at Daytona, and Jamie McMurray’s amazing win of the Daytona 500, surely the media attention would be devoted to Jamie for the following week. Jamie did get the attention that he deserved as he traveled the circuit across the country with major TV appearances and a Champions tour in California. But the 35th place finisher in the second tier series actually did more TV appearances and got at least as much, if not more, media attention as McMurray. The big call was now that Danica had that Daytona race under her belt, she was going to be a front finisher at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.
So when she qualified a disappointing 36th and poor showings in the two earlier practices, the questions began to swirl. The fans of course were all assured that she was concentrating on getting a feel for the car, and qualifying wasn’t a big deal, as the team, with the financial backing of Bob Parsons of GoDaddy.com, had bought the points of the CJM team to guarantee a starting spot for the first 5 races of 2010. When the green flag dropped, she made a steady move to the back of the field. In the first half of the race, the only spots she gained in the running order was when the start and park cars headed for the garage. She remained in the back of the field for nearly the entire race, and it was painfully obvious that she was in way over her head. Here she was, in a car that was capable of winning and she lagged in the rear all day, finishing 31st, three laps down. Four of the five ‘Rookies’ finished ahead of her, as did many of the small underfunded teams with clearly inferior equipment. The post race chatter was that she did good because she was ‘learning’. For hundreds of young drivers out there, the NNS is not the learning series. That is what the ASA, USAR Pro Cup and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West are all for.
This weekend, the NNS heads to LasVegas where Danica is entered in the Sam’s Town 300. With two races of dismal performances and finishes of 35th and 31st, it will be interesting to see if the Danica whirlwind media tour continues for a fourth week. Will anyone heading to LasVegas be able to remember that Jamie McMurray is the 2010 Daytona 500 Champion? Will anyone remember that four time NSCS Champion Jimmie Johnson won the Auto Club 500 on Sunday? Will they be reminded that Tony Stewart won the Drive4COPD300 or that Kyle Bush won the Stater Bros. 300?