NASCAR: Patrick’s performance is reality show

They desperately want her to succeed. Hard as it may seem, they may want it more than she does. But make no mistake, Danica Patrick wants her NASCAR experiment to cure cancer, generate free energy and correct global warming.

Yet after she finished 31st at Auto Club Speedway in  Fontana in her non-restrictor plate debut — on a track where a driver can make a difference — you were left with a few thoughts and NASCAR suits must have been wondering, at least for a split second, “My god, what have we created?”

Was this much ado about nothing? Yes.

Is she as good as advertised? No.

Patrick may eventually succeed in NASCAR, and may give those suits what they want. She may eventually be a tide that floats all boats as trickle down economics support lesser-funded teams. However, it won’t be right away. And when she drove her Chevrolet into the garage at the conclusion of her West Coast Debut, she stormed past cameras and disregarded anyone who didn’t matter, which was pretty much everyone outside her entourage.

Two races in, and NASCAR has already seen her first IndyCar tantrum. There wasn’t the stomping of her feet, or grabbing another driver’s arm, or hitting someone else on the helmet. But this is Danica’s world.

And you thought Kyle Busch was immature.

Seeing Busch or Tony Stewart do the same thing might not have been surprising while locked into a championship chase, but in their second race? The media, and NASCAR, has treated Patrick like a princess, and she couldn’t man up and show a little bit of grace after a tough day at the office? Had she finished in the top 10 she would have found time for the camera. In fact, she did at Daytona.

In truth, Patrick would have been fortunate to finish in the top 25, not because she is a lousy driver, but because realistic expectations couldn’t have imagined anything better. She finished ahead of five who were still running at the end and, frankly, that might not have been so bad.

But when Tony Eury Jr., says that there’s a reason that Patrick is in this series, his implication is that it’s all about talent.

It’s not. If JR Motorsports was interested in winning races with an open wheel driver, there are 10 guys from the IndyCar Series who could out-perform Patrick in equal equipment. But NASCAR isn’t interested in Oriol Servia or Justin Wilson or Graham Rahal or even Dario Franchitti, who never got the chance to succeed that Patrick will get.

NASCAR will give her every opportunity. She will get the benefit of the doubt. The series may even treat her with kid gloves, just as IndyCar did because they realize a marketing opportunity.

And that’s what Patrick’s foray into NASCAR is. It’s about marketing, because it’s not about winning. She didn’t win a race when she was in Barber Dodge. She didn’t win a race when she was in Toyota Atlantics. And her only victory in IndyCar came when Helio Castroneves ran out of fuel on the last lap with a sizable lead.

So yeah, she’s an IndyCar winner. So are Max Papis, A.J. Allmendinger, Sam Hornish, Robby Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya — all of whom won more than one race. Franchitti, Hornish and Montoya were champions. Talentwise, Patrick is starting from the back compared to those other drivers.

Patrick who finished fifth last season, was closer to 10th place in the standings than she was to fourth place.

She is a competitor. She has some skills. She asks a lot of good questions. She can give good answers. But success will not come quickly. For the media that has been enamored with her the past three weeks and thought that she was going to succeed where guys like Hornish and Franchitti have thus far failed, take note: There are a lot of good drivers out there.

There are good drivers in the IndyCar Series. There are good drivers in Nationwide too.  And most of them aren’t going to roll over just because she feels entitled to win — which has been her attitude in IndyCar all along. That’s the reality.

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