Danica Patrick has long way to go
Danica Patrick cued her radio during the processional laps preceding the Brickyard 400 and addressed her team. The last idle weekend of the Sprint Cup schedule, she said, utilizing the vernacular of her new pastime, was like the turn of a golf course. The 10th hole was about to begin.
The metaphor wasn't perfect 20 races into a 36-race schedule, but it was apt enough. Assured a few weeks earlier by team owner and teammate Tony Stewart that she was meeting expectations, Patrick seemed more attuned to the vast amount of work necessary to make her a competitive stock car driver than the fact that she was about to compete in her first Sprint Cup race at the scene of some of her greatest glories: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A 30th-place finish reinforced the fact there is much more to do before the clubhouse is in sight.
1. Faster company: Things are getting better at Stewart-Haas Racing after early-season travails. Stewart had a win and five top-5s in nine races before sustaining a broken leg that likely will end his postseason hopes. Outgoing teammate Ryan Newman has thrust himself into wild-card contention with a resume-burnishing win in the Brickyard 400. Patrick has a best finish of 13th during the span, but the improvement of her teammates can't be expected to translate to her program. Stewart has made 526 career Cup starts, Newman 426. Patrick has 32.
2. Stewart could help Patrick get a leg up: Certainly, Stewart has plenty to manage with his varied racing and business interests, but with his behind-the-wheel activities curtailed indefinitely, the three-time Sprint Cup champion could become a valuable coaching resource for Patrick. Newman will leave Stewart-Haas Racing after the season and replacement Kevin Harvick races for another team, so nurturing Patrick's nascent Cup career might be prudent. This is a man who scrutinizes track conditions at his Eldora Speedway via closed-circuit cameras while sitting in his motor coach or via smartphone, so connecting with a fellow driver would seemingly be a simple matter.
3. Back to the future: Patrick began her career on road circuits in open wheel formula series but reached the big leagues in an IndyCar circuit before wedding to ovals. While she professes a comfort on high-speed, high-banked tracks such as Daytona and Texas, she continues to show promise off the ovals, finishing a passable 20th at Watkins Glen last weekend.
4. It takes two: New GoDaddy chief executive officer Blake Irving has "big plans," Patrick said and hopes they include her. But she admitted, "it takes two." That's an astute observation. Company founder Bob Parsons used to quip that his company would sponsor Patrick if she decided to become a figure skater, but that's not his call anymore. As evidenced by Patrick's lack of Nationwide entries this season, no sponsor, including GoDaddy, is a source of unending funds without the promise of return. Performing in an improving but still frugal racing/business climate is critical.
5. Midwesterners can work it out, for Patrick's sake: Travis Kvapil, a native of Wisconsin, used a derogatory acronym for drivers from Illinois in a tweet after he and Patrick were involved in two crashes together in a three-week span, adding that he was "done just getting run over and wrecked and racing her clean." Patrick said this week that she had worked out any problems with the former truck series champion during a phone conversation.