Saturday, February 6, 2010
That's No Lady Out There Any Longer, That's A True Racer
Well, the little lady proved she can drive a stock car after all. And I mean that in the highest form of flattery, not the lowest form of derision.
Yes, Danica Patrick deserves a big round of applause for her very successful stock car racing debut – a debut that was most likely much more successful than many people thought she had in her. Many predicted she'd wreck out early, or be the linchpin of a massive, multi-car wreck, with her at fault, of course.
But Patrick showed in Saturday's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona International Speedway that she unquestionably has the mettle and ability to handle a stock car that weighs almost twice as much as the open-wheel Indy Racing League jets that she's used to piloting.
I mean, she finished SIXTH! That's not just good, that's nothing short of frickin' outstanding.
And to do so with limited practice and testing time, to keep her wits and emotions about her, not provoking or getting into any on-track conflict, Patrick earned a lot of respect in perhaps the hardest way possible Saturday. She not only proved she can drive a stock car quite nicely, thank you very much, she also proved she can hang with more experienced competitors, she could stay cool under pressure and she was both a dutiful student and conduit of information from behind the wheel to crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
She listened to Eury, while also giving great feedback. She didn't throw any of the temper tantrums that she's become famous for on the open-wheel side. She didn't overrule Eury, nor did she try to force her opinion upon him, unlike her primary team owner – who used to do that with Eury all the time.
What's more, Patrick graciously accepted constructive criticism, dutifully obeyed Eury's orders, came back from a couple of bouts of adversity that threatened to see her finish closer to 25th than the actual 6th-place finish that she wound up with, and potentially began laying a foundation that she very well may build a brand new career upon.
Sure, no race car driver's career is built upon or based upon just one start in a new series. And, quite frankly, most of Patrick's opponents in Saturday's race were a lot shorter on the talent pole than the drivers she'll soon meet in the Nationwide Series … and ultimately, if she continues in that direction, the Sprint Cup Series.
Although she said Friday that she likely would skip racing in next Saturday's Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona in favor of doing so the following week at Fontana, Calif., I have to wonder if Patrick, Eury, and team co-owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick may decide that she should go back to the original gameplan of racing her first Nationwide event at DIS. After all, she's had a great start – why not get more while the gettin's good?
I realize it's only one race, but with what she displayed, the future would seem to look very bright for Patrick after Saturday's accomplishment. Sure, she's probably going to face some struggles as she continues to climb the NASCAR ladder, but the Danica Patrick we saw Saturday could make us forget about the other Danica Patrick that has been the object of so much derision, criticism and abject hatred towards.
I remember how, nearly four years ago, I coined a phrase that caught extensive attention from many of my media peers, when I referred to Patrick as nothing more than "flash and flesh" and of very little substance otherwise.
Since then, she's proven me wrong, slowly but surely. Sure, she's still had immature blowups and confrontations, and has had some episodes of fieriness that may not have been called for. But frankly, I wouldn't respect her as a racer if she didn't display some of those traits. More than anything, it shows she cares about racing, cares about what she's doing and is one hell of a competitor.
What more could you ask for in a racer?
As far as I'm concerned, Patrick is no longer the exception to the rule – a female in a male-dominated sport. Her gender should matter no longer.
What should only matter from here on out is that she's proven she can flat out drive not just an open-wheeler, but now has proven she can drive a stock car with authority and aplomb. To come back from 24th place with 19 laps to go and ultimately finish sixth the way she did, I say this in the best spirit possible:
That was no lady out there any longer. That was a racer, and a damned good one at that. That she's a woman is no longer relevant in any debate after she did what she did Saturday afternoon. She should be proud to be called a bonafide stock car racer now -- and that's the highest compliment she so rightfully deserves.
By Jerry Bonkowski at Saturday, February 06, 2010