June 28, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
This past weekend at the Nationwide Series event at Road America, Danica Patrick capped off yet another strong showing inside the confines of a stock car in all too familiar fashion -- spinning off the racing surface.
With just a few laps to go around the road circuit after an expertly driven race for Patrick, it seemed NASCAR’s darling was destined to have one of her best results yet, until an episode with Jacques Villeneuve sent Patrick skidding outside the top-10.
That type of frustrating day in Wisconsin pretty much sums up the Patrick stock car experiment up to this point. One of the biggest draws and headline grabbers in the Nationwide Series has slowly evolved from a clueless driver riding on her fame gained in the IndyCar series to a competent competitor, but mishaps with other drivers like the one at Road America have prevented Danica from making another leap forward.
Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., blew some smoke a few weeks ago at Michigan when he came out and criticized the other drivers in the field for having a petulant attitude toward Danica on the track, and racing aggressively just to avoid the shame of “being beaten by a girl.”
“We all have egos. We don't want the girl to outrun us. It's a fact of she's getting put in some situations where she doesn't need put into because they're taking advantage,” Eury Jr. said to reporters, according to ESPN.com. "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.”
Eury’s brash defensiveness raises a few questions. Certainly, Eury might have just been trying to motivate Patrick and deflect any disappointment, instead working to plant a seed in Patrick’s mind of how she needs to be aggressive in future battles. He may also have purely been overreacting in the heat of the moment, and exaggerating the situation.
There has never yet been a successful female driver in NASCAR history, at least not with a sustained, lasting and competitive career. Patrick arguably has already accomplished all those things in IndyCar, but the dynamic between Patrick and the other IndyCar drivers was seemingly very different than the one she currently experiences. And because of those differences, Patrick and Eury have to expect to endure some barbs and arrows from Nationwide Series drivers with wounded egos.
While in IndyCar, Patrick was the biggest star in the sport -- and everybody profited from it. The IndyCar series wasn’t well watched and didn’t really have any household names when Patrick arrived on the scene, but suddenly the entire series was given a new level of visibility because of her. As such, her competitors were willing to share the track. Everyone got along just fine.
NASCAR is a different animal. The races are watched by millions and millions each week, and when Danica makes the eventual jump to the Sprint Cup Series, she won’t overshadow the sport the way she did in IndyCar. Until she makes that leap, though, Danica is stuck in the lower-profile world of the Nationwide Series, where she has obviously dented a few egos.
Most of the drivers in the Nationwide Series will never make it to the Sprint Cup Series, but NASCAR’s second tier remains an important proving group for the star talent of tomorrow. It usually takes years for a driver to ascend the NASCAR ladder, whereas Patrick seems to have her Sprint Cup destiny written in the stars. It appears inevitable that she’ll make it to the top, so naturally her fellow drivers in the Nationwide Series who don’t have such a guarantee will feel slighted -- by sponsors, by the media and by the fans.
Although over aggressive driving just to avoid losing to a girl isn’t behavior most would condone, Patrick and Eury have to expect such tactics. And weathering those types of dirty tactics will only make her a stronger driver in the future.
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
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.