By Steven Cole Smith, Crain News Service
DETROIT (May 17, 2013) — So far this season, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Danica Patrick has won $1,203,699. There are failures, we suppose, and there are failures.
Ms. Patrick threatened to make fools of her critics with her levelheaded performance at the Daytona 500 season opener, with her pole-position start and a solid eighth-place finish—and even that didn't indicate just how well she really ran.
Since then, though, her critics have had plenty to point to. Granted, Ms. Patrick—who has been going through a just-finalized divorce while dating fellow rookie, Roush Fenway driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. —is a methodical, never-flashy driver who does not push her car, or herself, beyond limits.
It is understandable that tracks she has never raced on, like Richmond International Raceway, would present a challenge. Also, it isn't as though her teammates, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, have been setting the tracks on fire—clearly, there are issues that must be addressed with the Stewart-Haas Chevrolets.
Still—taking the 11 races thus far of this 36-race season as a whole, Ms. Patrick just isn't doing that well. At Phoenix, she started 40th, finished 39th. Las Vegas, she started 37th, finished 33rd. Bristol, she started 41st, finished 28th. California, she started 40th, finished 26th. Martinsville she started 32nd, finished a bright-spot 12th. Texas, she started 42nd, finished 28th. Kansas, she started and finished 25th. At Talladega, she started 23rd, finished 33rd. And at Darlington, she started 40th and ended up in 28th, a whole five laps down. Presently, she's 28th in season points. Her average starting spot is 31st, and her average finish is 26th.
Richmond's Toyota Owners 400, based on her performance at Martinsville, could have been a good night, but she started the GoDaddy Chevrolet in 30th, and finished 29th, four laps down. The car was loose into the turns, tight in the middle and loose out—and no matter what crew chief Tony Gibson did to fix it, nothing worked.
In her typical fashion, though, she stayed out of trouble, brought the car home in one piece, and likely learned a lot. Same thing at Darlington this past weekend: She started out slow, began to figure out the tricky track, and by the end, she was running some pretty competitive laps.
"It was just a tough weekend," she said after Darlington. But she learned. "Nothing is wasted. No run or no lap is wasted, but sometimes the fruits of your labor aren't realized until later on."
But how much later? That's the question her fans, and her critics, are asking.
This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.