Monday, June 26, 2017

COMMENTARY: Luckless Patrick Facing Career Crossroads

Danica Patrick just can’t win for losing.

The Stewart Haas Racing driver started her weekend at Sonoma Raceway is encouraging fashion; qualifying sixth for Sunday’s running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350. But as soon as the green flag waved, Patrick’s luck turned sour.

Just 14 laps into the event, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. spun in Turn 11 and slid his Axalta-sponsored Chevrolet across the track, into the path of Patrick’s oncoming Ford.

"Wrong place, wrong time," explained Earnhardt afterward. "Danica was trying to protect her position, and I went even lower than we normally go. It's real slick down there, and I just locked up the rear tires. I'll take some of the responsibility, for sure."

Patrick sang a similar tune, saying Earnhardt, “kind of lost it.

“I went to the outside, and there were cars all slowing down ... and he spun across,” she said. “There was a lot of dive-bombing today… but there's a limit to the amount of grip and the amount of braking power that these cars have."

The impact damaged both machines, and crew chief Billy Scott called Patrick to pit road for repairs and fresh tires. The Code 3 Associates driver quickly worked her way forward from the back of the pack, however. climbing as high as 21st before a scheduled, green-flag pit stop on Lap 22 for tires and fuel.

Not long after the start of the race’s second stage, Patrick once again found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, Kyle Larson attempted a three-wide, banzai move that ended with a second round of contact with Earnhardt. Patrick went spinning into the path of boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who was left with nowhere to go.

"Tell Ricky I'm sorry," said a sheepish Patrick, after Stenhouse suffered sufficient damage to end his day.

“They were three-wide in front of us trying to go through Turn 4, which never works,” said an angry Stenhouse after a mandatory trip to the track’s Infield Care Center. “They were all dive-bombing each other and then (Danica) got spinning and I tried to go low. She just kept coming down the track. We just clipped it a little bit and tore the left front up too bad to continue.”

Patrick was able to continue, once again pitting for tires and repairs. She began the race’s final stage in 18th place, and ran as high as fourth as the field cycled through a series of green-flag pit stops. She dropped to 28th after a final pit stop on lap 80, before racing her battered Ford back through the pack to finish 17th at the drop of the checkered flag.

“It definitely wasn’t the day the Code 3 Associates team was expecting,” said Patrick of her pinball-esque afternoon. “But we were able to battle back to a decent finish. The car was just awful in the final laps of the last two runs, but we made the most of it at the end.

"It's just a lot of people dive-bombing” she added. “It's part of what makes road-course racing exciting in a stock car, because you don't climb wheels. You just bump fenders. It just wasn't the day we expected to have.

Someday, (our luck) it will go the other way.”

In the aftermath of Sunday’s outing, Patrick now stands 28th in the championship standings. Her only shot at a 2017 playoff berth is to win a race in the next few weeks; an unlikely prospect considering that she is winless in 233 career stock car starts, and has recorded just one Top-10 finish – a 10th at Dover earlier this month – in her last 78 races.

When Patrick first came to NASCAR in 2010, fans and media stood 30-deep around her car and radio and TV clamored to interview her before and after every race. Sponsorship flowed like water, and Patrick ranked as one of the sport’s most recognizable drivers.

Since then, however, the hype has cooled. A half-decade or more of mid-pack finishes has made Patrick less relevant to the media and less attractive to sponsors these days, and the rumor mill is rife with speculation that she will not return to Stewart Haas Racing next season.

Patrick has openly admitted “not having fun” on the race track this season, adding that if her performances don’t improve, she may look for something else to do on Sunday afternoons.

“Every year I come into it with hope,” said Patrick earlier this season. “Now, that hope has kind of been crushed. We’ve been through enough races (that) it’s not going to be like a light switch. It’s time for some honesty. It’s time for some figuring out what the hell we’re doing because this is not helping anybody.”
“It doesn’t really help anybody if I’m out there running 25th. I’m not sure that does a lot for me.”

Patrick certainly isn’t in it for the money. She has been well compensated throughout her IndyCar and NASCAR careers, and recently published a health and fitness book, “Pretty Intense.” She launched her “Warrior by Danica Patrick” line of fitness apparel earlier this year to rave reviews, and admitted that if her on-track fortunes do not improve, there could be a team change – or even a career change – in her near future.

“It could mean either, to be honest,” she said. “If I could do better with a different team, then I would do it. I love racing. But I don’t love being miserable every weekend like I am now.

“The people around me probably aren’t that happy, either. None of us want to go out there and not run well. It’s a matter of being realistic about what’s going to be possible, what makes sense and where I’m going to be the most successful.”

With just 10 races remaining in the 2017 regular season – 10 more chances to regain her on-track relevance – Danica Patrick stands at a career crossroads. If her performance continues to flounder, 2017 will almost certainly mark her final season with a top-tier NASCAR team.

A little luck would certainly help change that outlook.










14 comments:

  1. I would personally like to see her step back to the Xfinity series for a few seasons. She showed a lot of progress while there and I felt it was only a matter of time before a win came.

    I think this is another case of being tossed in the deep end,when you can barely doggie paddle.

    Clearly though she has shown flashes of greatness,and I think some more Xfinity time would allow her to string more of it together.

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  2. If it wasn't for her getting taken out so many times, it would have been a banner year.

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  3. It doesn't help that she can't relate to her crew chief what the car needs. She finds so many things to say is wrong that he has to check with the spotter for what he thinks the car or her is doing. Her scanner can be quite enlightening.

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  4. Good enough to end up in the 4th Roush/Fenway/Petty Ford next year!

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  5. Just off the top of my head, I can think of six races that she got crashed out of, that were no fault of her own, that's almost a third of ther traces this year she hasn't finished because of other people's actions...I thunk she has had as good of a showing this year as Kasey Kahne has...jmo

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  6. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Somewhere drivers like Buckshot Jones, Robert Pressley, and Shawna Robinson are wondering why their struggling Cup careers didn't garner this much attention. They just faded into obscurity the way most other mid-pack, unsuccessful Cup Series drivers do.

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    1. Except Buckshot Jones and Robert Pressley proved they could race - Shawna Robinson was a walking multicar melee and Danica Patrick isn't much better.

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  7. With and average race finish of 23.8 and 25.8 in the driver standings in the last four years, I think the experiment is over. Not with women drivers, but with Danica. She has consistently finished at the tail end of the standings of the drivers from big money teams. She's had more than her share of bad luck, more so this year than in the past, but you can easily make a case that you have a better chance of getting caught up in someone else's wreck if you're running 25th instead of 5th, in some ways, making your own luck. Going forward, it's highly improbable that her handlers can negotiate a deal with enough major sponsors to get her another quality ride. I don't think she'll settle for a second level team. So, Danica, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, whatever they may be.

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  8. It isn't luck, ultimately it is she is not qualified to race. The failures seen in her NASCAR career parallel the failure of her Indycar career - both times with high-quality racecars, the classic case of getting a lot and doing little with it. The sport doesn't need her and really shouldn't have her.

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  9. I suppose I'm looking at this from a different perspective. This is the 4th straight race she has run much better. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time has dampened likely better finishes. I think she did well to overcome a lot of adversity at Sonoma, and brought the car home in a respectable finishing position.

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  10. My only question is, who will be in the #10 SHR Ford Fusion next year??????

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  11. I agree 100% that the Danica experiment should be over but, it is not. We all know that sponsorship is what dictates who drives and what they drive. Danica's #10 was the only one of four SHR cars fully funded not so long ago and she will be able to offer some sponsorship to one of the smaller teams out there, so much so that she will find another ride for at least another year or two regardless of her no so stellar driving abilities and I for one would not rule out Hendricks for her either. Just sayn!

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  12. Gene from Saint Paul7:37 PM

    Dave, I also think Nascar is at a crossroads too. TV ratings are down and lots of empty seats at the track. Car owners like Haas and Rousch unable to find sponsorship with more companies leaving the sport next year. My opinion is Nascar is going back to a regional minor league sport like it was in the 60s and 70s before the boom times. Whats yours?

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    1. My two cents - NASCAR will not become a regional sport again, but it will be closer to what it was in the 1970s; there will remain a respectable core audience, and if anything the competitive improvement seen this year will down the road halt the slide in popularity.

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