I have to admit, I couldnâ€™t stand Danica Patrick when she was just racing Indy cars. I thought she was a whiny, over-rated Diva that as much a product of those creepy GoDaddy commercials as she was of her one win (a fuel consumption win that had no impact on the points race).
I was looking forward to her flunking out of the Nationwide Racing in NASCAR quite a bit but over the last three weeks of watching a fair amount of her on Speed (the network, not the drug), I have come to appreciate her. Danica has been a lot more humble, a lot less whiny, and even enjoyable to listen to as she describes what she is learning while running NASCAR.
I donâ€™t know if she is just overwhelmed by the NASCAR learning curve or if someone at JR Motorsports has gotten her to tune her attitude down a bit. I wonder if the fact that she has done very poorly so far has helped a bit as well (for qualifying for California, she qualified 36th (and was slower than even the go of go home qualifiers") and finished 31st (three laps back). In losing today, even on the radio, she was totally different than she is in an Izod IndyCar Series race. No temper tantrums, no rantsâ€¦ in other words, totally different than she is normally during a race. Going slow and temper tantrums donâ€™t go that well together so maybe she realizes that she needed to tone it down.
A summary of her race from Yahoo! Sports
Patrick repeatedly said this week that the difficult part for her is not knowing for sure how things are supposed to feel in a stock car. It was clear she was trying to figure that out and she accomplished what she has to doâ€” focus on running laps and gaining experience.
â€œYou progressed a lot in this race, girl. Iâ€™m proud of you, what youâ€™ve learned,â€ crew chief Tony Eury Jr. told her over the radio more than two-thirds of the way through the race.
Patrick originally was supposed to make her NASCAR debut at California, but went a week earlier than planned after finishing sixth in an ARCA race at Daytona. She also will race next weekend at the 1 1/2 -mile Las Vegas track before getting back in Indy cars for a stretch.
After five laps Saturday, Patrick was 41st of the 41 cars still on the track after two had already parked for the day. Fifteen laps later, she was still last on the track (of 40 cars) and had already been passed by seven cars.
When the 57th lap ended, Patrick had moved to 35th ahead of four other cars on the track and her lap times were improving.
At the halfway point, she was up to 32nd, though two laps down.
Either way, I am appreciating her guts as she learns to race in NASCAR and actually found myself rooting for her. I donâ€™t know how long the new and laid back Danica is going to last but it makes it a lot easier to cheer for her. Letâ€™s hope that Tony Eury Jr. has better luck with her than he did with Dale Jr.
Jay Hart has this to say about her time in the Nationwide Series.
Though Patrickâ€™s wasnâ€™t a stellar performance, it certainly was respectable. After dropping to the back of the field just two laps into Saturdayâ€™s race, she settled in and began picking off a handful of cars. By the end of the race, she had cut the lap-time differential between herself and the leader by three quarters â€“ from around four seconds at the start of the race to around one by the time the checkered flag flew.
Despite the apparent improvement from Lap 1 to Lap 150, Patrick was anything but satisfied. After getting out of her car, she stormed to her hauler in the Nationwide garage, clearly agitated with her result.
â€œShe doesnâ€™t like finishing where she is,â€ Eury Jr. said outside Patrickâ€™s hauler. â€œShe feels like she should be better than she is right now, and Iâ€™m just trying to keep her pumped up and tell her itâ€™s all right.
â€œItâ€™s a tough sport. Thereâ€™s a lot of competition over here, and thereâ€™s a lot of guys who came from the same series she did [who] tried to do it and some of them have been successful, some of them have not. But sheâ€™s going to make it; itâ€™s just going to take time. Sheâ€™s just got to be willing to sacrifice that time.â€
After a 15-minute cool-down period, Patrick emerged from her hauler to give her take on the day.
â€œIâ€™m a competitor and Iâ€™m used to running up front,â€ she said. â€œSo itâ€™s shocking when youâ€™re that far back. But you know what? This is a whole new ball of wax for me, and itâ€™s all different. And I have to disconnect from the results for quite some time, I think, because theyâ€™re probably not going to be what Iâ€™m used to.â€
And so begins the waning portion of Danica-mania.