By Joe Dunn
Danica Patrick completed her sixth NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday in the Carfax 250 at Michigan international Speedway. Not surprising, she qualified at the rear of the field, starting 33rd. Her finish was another result that fans have come to expect, 27th place, 4 laps down.
Patrick came to NASCAR amidst lots of fanfare and media attention. Even at Michigan, her sixth race where she was still running barely ahead of the start and park cars in the garage, the TV commentators were all over themselves talking about her. The outrageous excuses for her poor performance has gone way beyond stupid.
It seems that no money was spared this season to assure that Patrick would be locked into the races, first by buying the 2009 11 team to have a guaranteed top 30 points for the first 5 races. Patrick quickly showed why that was a necessary expense to get her in the field. In 6 races, she’s had a best qualifying effort of 25th and an average qualifying result of 31.8.
After the first 3 races, it appeared that JR Motorsports realized that they could not count on Danica actually making the rest of her scheduled races without the guaranteed start of a top 30 team. After, months of talk about the #7 team not running the full schedule and rolling out just for Patrick, there was a rush to line up drivers to keep it in the points. Since Patrick’s race at LasVegas, the team has started with 5 different drivers, in an all out effort to lock the car into the field each week. Each one of those five drivers accumulated far better results than Patrick.
In six races Danica has an average qualifying effort of 31.8, while Steve Arpin, a dirt track driver with very limited paved racing experience averaged 16.8 in qualifying, and rookie Josh Wise averaged 19th in his efforts. The finishing order is even more disturbing as Patrick has an averaged finish of 30.5. This would not be a real concern for a real rookie, but Danica mania was selling her as a champion coming into NASCAR from the open wheel ranks. It seems that if she is considered a star of the IndyCar Series, that program is in serious trouble.
Landon Cassill was the first casualty of the keep Danica locked in program. After three races in which he had a qualifying effort of 22.6 and an average finish of 24.3, he was tossed aside as not the power needed to benefit Patrick. Next came Steve Arpin, the Canadian open wheel racer that began his rookie season in the ARCA series this year. After 5 races with an average start of 16.8 and an average finish of 24.8, he was quietly sent back to ARCA to be replaced by Josh Wise.
The latest story from JR Motorsports is that Josh Wise will remain in the car and will share the #7 car in 2011 with Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. In five races so far in 2010 in the #7 car, Wise has an average start of 19th and an average finish of 12.8. It is a shame that he won’t have a serious chance to make a run at the Championship for 2011.
Looking at the history of NASCAR and the level of competition, it is hard to believe that any team would keep a driver in the car who has an average start of 31.8, and average finish of 30.5 and in 6 races has finished on average 30.5 laps behind the leader. A driver whose best finish was 2 laps behind the leader!
Is anyone besides me, tired of the constant interviews with Danica where she continues to display just how out of touch she is with NASCAR? Six months after her first start, she still has no idea how to tell her crew chief what the car needs for her to drive it. Is anyone else getting tired of the ‘it’s a learning program’, when there are capable and genuinely promising drivers sidelined looking for a ride.