July 2, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
So far, Danica Patrick's foray into the world of stockcar racing has far exceeded expectations.
She's showed development at the tracks she's raced at multiple times and continues to improve as she gains experience.
Yet her biggest problem is not that she needs experience, it's that she isn't getting the respect she deserves on the track. She's had a couple of potential top-ten finishes snatched from her grasp by altercations with other drivers.
Last week, Patrick was running in fourth place on the final lap at Road America. What would have been her first top-five finish of the year was taken away by Jacques Villeneuve, who punted her car into the gravel.
The fourth place result would have tied her record for the highest finish by a woman in a NASCAR race that she set last year at Las Vegas. Instead, Patrick finished in twelfth place.
It's become a common occurrence. The week before at Michigan, Austin Dillon moved his car into a position that took the air off the spoiler Patrick's car that prompted it to spin out. And she's had a couple of on-track altercations with Sam Hornish Jr., who is also a former open wheel driver struggling to make the transition to NASCAR.
Are the other drivers taking advantage of Patrick simply because she's a rookie or because they are afraid of losing to a girl?
Her most ardent supporter and crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., believes in the latter theory.
"We all have egos. We don't want the girl to outrun us. It's a fact she's getting put in some situations where she doesn't need put into because they're taking advantage,” Eury Jr., was quoted as saying. "I want her to remember how certain people race her, remember how certain guys race you, so when she gets to his level, she can race them back like that."
Her car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was impressed with her performance at Road America and offered her encouragement.
"I think that last week was unfortunate because Villeneuve doesn’t have to race her this week or for a while anyways. I told her that she was fast, and she can’t be bothered with Villeneuve too much because that was just kind of ignorant what he did and you’ve got to let that go," Earnhardt was quoted as saying during a press conference this weekend at Kentucky. "Every once in a while somebody is going to get a cheap shot that you’ll never be able to pay back. She was really fast. I was impressed with her speed in that race. She was running right in the middle of a bunch of ringers that I can’t even keep up with on the road courses."
When she first began racing in NASCAR, people said she wouldn't amount to anything and that she was only famous because of her gender and the fact that she uses it in racy GoDaddy.com commercials and Sports Illustrated swimsuit spreads.
Yet Patrick has shown considerable promise on the track. Her skill as a stockcar driver is rapidly developing and one has to wonder what her results might have been if other drivers on the track had been racing her cleanly.
As her racing skills continue to improve and her confidence grows, Patrick will be able to hold her own on the track. Eventually, the other drivers may find themselves in a position where losing to a girl is a circumstance that is beyond their control.
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.