One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten during the offseason is about the expectations of Danica Patrick running full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. I actually don’t think things will be all that different from last year, when she was running a full Nationwide schedule and a partial Sprint Cup deal.
Now she has her feet wet. This is the year that we are going to find out how much Danica really wants to be a stock car driver.
So far, it’s looking good. Danica went to Daytona and posted the fastest lap to earn the pole position, the first female driver to do so in Sprint Cup racing.
One of the first real positive signs I’ve seen was when she had the opportunity this year to run the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Declining that opportunity to run Indianapolis, to me, speaks volumes about her dedication to making her NASCAR career take off.
Personally, I think the sky is the limit for Danica. She had some runs last year. I don’t want to go as far as to say they were great runs, but definitely had some good runs in 2012. She had a good run going at Bristol in the fall, but got herself into an on-track situation with Regan Smith. She then showed the fire that NASCAR fans have always loved from their drivers by getting out there on the track and wagging her finger at Regan.
This is going to be a hard year for her, make no mistake about that. It is a hard year for any rookie making the move up to our sport’s premier series. Danica has the extra stress of being under the media microscope more than anyone other than maybe Dale Earnhardt Jr.
So that’s one thing I am going to keep my eye on this year where Danica is concerned — how does she handle the pressure? Qualifying and keeping herself high up in the points is going to be critical for the success of her rookie season in Sprint Cup.
In the Nationwide Series, there were times when she looked really good. Naturally, there were times when she looked really bad. With any rookie, it’s all about gaining that valuable experience and seat time. Trust me, there will be times when everyone will say Danica gets it. Conversely, there will be times when folks will say she never should have left the Nationwide Series.
Being fortunate to enjoy the success I had as a crew chief, I firmly believe Danica’s fortunes this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rest on her relationship between her and crew chief Tony Gibson. If she and Tony can find the chemisty so critical between driver and crew chief, then I think you will see Danica take her career to new heights.
At the end of the day, as people like to say, it will all rest in Danica’s lap. Well OK, in Danica’s hands. Why? Well that’s easy, because she is the only one sitting in that race car holding the steering wheel.