Thursday, August 18, 2011
Danica Patrick must handle rigors of NASCAR
By Eddie Gossage
Rest easy, America. We're about to find out. Will she stay or will she go?
Wednesday, Danica Patrick will announce her plans for 2012 and beyond. The worst-kept secret in motorsports -- heck, in American professional sports -- is that she will announce that she is moving full-time to the NASCAR Nationwide Series after running in IndyCars since 2005.
Patrick will run all the NASCAR Nationwide Series races for Jr. Motorsports, which is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. She will also run the Indianapolis 500 and, perhaps, one other IndyCar oval race to prep for the big race at the Brickyard.
Patrick has run 109 IndyCar races in her career, winning once. She bolted onto the worldwide sports scene when she almost won the 2005 Indy 500 as a rookie. She has dabbled in NASCAR, running 19 Nationwide races over the last two seasons. Her best placing has been a fourth-place finish.
So, how will she do in NASCAR?
A year or so ago, a columnist with USA Today stopped just short of calling me a male chauvinist pig for saying that the diminutive Patrick would likely struggle with the much heavier stock cars in NASCAR, which runs more than twice as many races than IndyCar.
Patrick has proven to be a quick learner, very adaptive to a completely different formula of racing than she had previously driven, and there is no questioning her talent.
I hope she is successful. I am pulling for her.
But the question remains. Not because of her gender, but because of her physical stature. The columnist from USA Today failed to mention that. Not because I didn't explain that during our interview, but because it didn't fit the agenda she aggressively, exhaustively promotes.
Patrick is every bit as tiny as she is talented. She's slightly more than five feet tall and couldn't weigh more than 110 pounds. Like all championship athletes, Patrick is in tremendous shape and is driven, competitive and focused.
But the fact remains that a NASCAR stock car weighs approximately twice as much as an IndyCar, making it physically more difficult. And the season can be a grind, particularly when a driver gets battered and bruised from crashes during the long season. Some drivers don't fully recover until the offseason, but you never hear about it publicly.
A driver like Jeff Gordon, considered small by many NASCAR fans, is considerably larger than Patrick. Gordon is probably 5-foot-8 and weighs more than 150 pounds. Small by normal standards, but imposing when compared to Patrick's stature.
So that's what I'm looking to see -- how does Patrick stand up to the physical wear and tear.
It is not her gender, not her talent, not her ability, not her desire.
If she can handle the wear and tear, she will succeed.
And I hope she does. The spotlight she brings with her is important to NASCAR and will enhance its future success.