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If the car fits, don't quit

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Folks, all this Danica-mania is trying to filter over into NASCAR and, I've started to think about how it would work for her in our sport.

Obviously, she is a very talented race car driver, and like all race car drivers — whether you're young or old, male or female — you want to be respected for your ability. She has proven that she has the ability. Last year, her team had a little bit of a horsepower advantage, and she took advantage of it. That's what race car drivers do. You're not going to have the best car year in and year out. Some years, there are rule changes and car changes. Circumstances change, and you have to make the most of them. If you have advantage, and you can win or get great finishes, then you take advantage of what you have. When it's not that way, you go out and do the best job that you can possibly do. But the driver doesn't change. Jeff Burton is a perfect example of a driver performing when he gets in the right car with the right team in the right circumstances. You don't forget how to drive. Like Burton, Danica is a proven commodity so I don't question her ability, but I do question her stature. She weighs 100 pounds, and she's 5'2". That's a perfect size to drive an open wheel car — an Indy car or a Formula One car. A lot of drivers in those series are small and don't weigh a lot. While being small is a real advantage in an Indy car, it can be somewhat of a disadvantage in a stock car, which weighs 3,400 pounds. The races are long, grueling 400-, 500- and — in one case — 600-mile races. The cars are very difficult to drive.

I'm not saying that she can't adapt. Great drivers can adapt to whatever his or her circumstances are. But I do think that it will be more difficult for her. The advantage that she has because of her size in an Indy car would be a disadvantage in a stock car. You've got to look at the whole picture. Her contract is up for Rahal Letterman Racing at the end of the year, and her car isn't running that great. She's probably underpaid. Who knew when she signed with Rahal Letterman that she was going to be the success that she has become and have the impact that she has had? Early on, drivers sign contracts, and they're making more money than they ever imagined. All of the sudden, they are superstars, and now they're not making nearly the amount of money that they think they should be making. You use whatever you have to leverage your next deal. In this case, the IRL depends on Danica a lot for the exposure that they've gotten over the last couple of years. From the sanctioning body's perspective, they need her to stay in IRL. Rahal Letterman needs her to stay in the car to attract sponsors and give them leverage. She's a great driver. She's a woman. She's good-looking. Those things are marketable, and any sponsor would want to be part of that package. She needs to capitalize on what she has and get paid better for the value that she provides. She probably feels undervalued.

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  • I've always believed in sticking to what you know which applies to Juan Pablo Montoya as well. To my knowledge, the only time that Juan has been in a stock car was running through the infield at Indy in 2003 with Jeff Gordon. I say stick to what you know, and obviously, he knows open wheel cars. He's had success there. Coming into our sport at 30 years of age, there's a huge learning curve just getting used to the cars. The cars are a big mountain to climb, but the race tracks are so different than the road courses in Formula One. I know Juan's won at Indy, and I know he's won championships. But look at the guys that come from other series and run in IROC. They get beaten regularly by the stock car guys, and it's all because the stock car guys are comfortable and familiar with the cars. As we did with Danica, you've got to look at the whole picture with Juan's situation. Apparently there were a lot of hard feelings, or there wasn't any team chemistry with McLaren team manager Ron Dennis. Apparently, they were pretty much on the outs. Juan may not have had any other options. I've never spoken to him so I don't know that for a fact, but I do know Juan's going to need a magic wand to make this transition work. You hear me talk about and read when I write about crew chiefs having a magic wand in their toolbox. When the car isn't very good, a crew chief like Chad Knaus gets out his magic wand and waves it over the car. Bippity, boppity, boo, all of the sudden, the car is a winner. It will the take a magic wand to get Juan up to speed in a short period of time. He needs to learn the sport, the people, the cars and the tracks in a reasonable amount of time so he's still young enough to be competitive. Look at Sunday's race at New Hampshire. Good grief! A 22-year-old (Brian Vickers), a 21-year-old (Kyle Busch) and a 20-year-old (Reed Sorenson) were fighting for the lead and the win. NASCAR is a young man's sport right now. Once you get to 30, I'm not saying you're done by any means, but if you're just starting in our sport at that age, it's a big disadvantage. So I think you should stick to what you know. Do what you do best, and you'll be better off in the long run.

    Oh, by the way

    I always try to remember the things that I had to learn coming up in the sport, and one of the things that I had to learn was not to race people that can't beat you. When you're trying to win a championship, or you're trying to win a race, and you get in a situation where you have to race people that can't beat you, you get in trouble. To avoid some problems, you have to be a little more conservative at certain points in a race and not jeopardize the big picture by racing people that can't beat you.

    And another Oh, by the way

    Ask DW
    It's Monday morning, and I'm on my way to Charlotte and the Busch shop to get the seat in my No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine. I'm testing on Tuesday at Caraway Speedway from 10 a.m. until dark or from 10 a.m. until I get happy. (Ha! Ha!) It might from be from 10 a.m. Tuesday until 6 p.m. Friday. After Tuesday's test, we'll go back to the shop, tune on the car a little bit, put the race motor in and then be in Martinsville on Thursday for open practice. Then, it's the regular weekend schedule with the race on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET. It's a big week for DW. I've been working pretty hard getting ready for this weekend the last several weeks. It's going to be hot, and that's a huge concern, not only for me, but for a lot of guys. Martinsville is a short race track where brake heat, engine heat and shock heat build up. That's probably one of my biggest concerns this week. It's the hottest week that we've had in Nashville, and it's supposed to be the same way in the Carolinas and Virginia. It bothers me a little bit, but I'm drinking a lot of Gatorade, one of my old sponsors. Just getting ready for Saturday afternoon to take it to them one more time.
    Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton

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