Saturday, August 27, 2011

Danica on RaceHub

A warm, and somewhat wary, welcome for Patrick

By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The most challenging seasons of Jeff Gordon's racing career were his rookie campaigns in what are now the Nationwide and Sprint Cup circuits, inaugural efforts in which it seemed his every move was being watched and evaluated. The weight of all those eyes and expectations was so heavy, he remembered, he felt them even when they weren't necessarily there.

Now, another heralded rookie is preparing to step into that cauldron. And the weight of expectations promises to be heavier than ever when Danica Patrick slides into her No. 7 car next year as a full-time driver on the Nationwide tour.

"It should be interesting," Gordon said. "To me, it's far more challenging to her than it is for me, because I didn't have that kind of hype and expectations and that many eyes on me. Even though I felt like I did, I know I didn't. The most challenging years in my racing career were definitely my rookie year in Nationwide and my rookie year in Cup, just because you feel you have so much to do to step it up, to live up to any expectations that there are. She certainly has a lot to live up to."

Patrick may be 2,600 miles away this weekend competing in an open-wheel event in Sonoma, Calif., but her shadow easily covered the distance to Bristol Motor Speedway. Patrick announced Thursday that she would move full time into the Nationwide tour next year with JR Motorsports, and also run a handful of Sprint Cup events -- including perhaps the Daytona 500 -- in a yet-to-be numbered entry at Stewart-Haas Racing. Friday, Patrick's arrival was welcomed by competitors in NASCAR's premier series, with the understanding that her performance will eventually have to match the hype.

"I think Danica still has to prove herself from a performance standpoint," Gordon added. "I think she's impressed a lot of people in some of her performances this year, but I think she still has a long way to go. I think she's ready for this sport, I think it's awesome to have her making that announcement to be full time. We'll just have to wait and see how she does in a full-time season and in those Cup events she's planning on doing."

One of those could be the Daytona 500. Although Patrick hasn't committed to the sport's biggest race, it's clear the event is on her radar screen. One of her best finishes this season was a 10th-place effort in the July Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway, and it would clearly be difficult for car sponsor GoDaddy to eschew the commercial bonanza that a berth in the Daytona 500 would carry with it.

"I think that Daytona would be a tough deal to turn down," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who owns Patrick's Nationwide Series ride. "It's obviously the biggest race of the season, the best opportunity to secure sponsorship dollars at that level. I'm sure that will be something that they look at. We're just focusing on how we can help her in the Nationwide Series."

Earnhardt also sounded like he wouldn't stand in the way of a potential Indianapolis 500 effort should Patrick choose to go that route. The Indy 500 and Charlotte Nationwide race, he pointed out, aren't on the same day. "She can do whatever she wants to do," he said. "It don't matter to me."

On the Sprint Cup side, at least, there are many details still to be worked out. Patrick said she'll compete in eight to 10 races at level, and car owner Tony Stewart said ideally he'd like to find a way to fill out the rest of the season with that vehicle to try and keep it north of the top 35 in owner points.

That would likely mean finding another sponsor as well as another driver, allowing Patrick's part-time ride to morph into a full-time car at Stewart-Haas. "It's in everybody's best interests to do that," Stewart said.

As for personnel, Stewart said he began that process "a month ago," but provided no details. If Patrick wants to use Tony Eury Jr. as crew chief for her Sprint Cup efforts, Earnhardt said such a thing could probably be worked out. Eury has shepherded Patrick through all 20 of her Nationwide starts, and the two have a very good working relationship. Friday, Eury said such speculation is premature.
"We haven't even discussed what's going on over there," he said. "It would be kind of hard for me do, but I ain't never going to say no to nothing. We'll just have to see."

The Stewart-Haas facility in Kannapolis, N.C., can easily accommodate a third team, although the organization will clearly have to increase its levels of manpower and equipment. "I really don't know how it's going to affect our entire organization," said Stewart-Haas driver Ryan Newman, Patrick's soon-to-be teammate. "Obviously, there's a lot of hype around it, and we've seen other areas of the sport [that] where there can be a lot of hype, there can be a lot of area for disappointment. It's something I think we're all looking forward to."

Even so, some stepped warily. Brad Keselowski took to Twitter on Thursday to voice his concerns that Patrick's sometimes-racy marketing techniques may undermine the credibility of future female racers "who wish to make it based on skill, mental toughness, and a never give up attitude." If Patrick does not succeed, Keselowski wrote, "no female will get a chance for years to come."

Friday, he stood firm on those comments. "I said what I meant," he said.

Earnhardt didn't agree. "People get opportunities in this sport in many different ways," he said. "I don't necessarily agree with that. I think she has shown to be a tough racer and a marketing machine. She's really savvy, and I think she just opened the door to a lot more opportunities for other women whether she measures up to everybody's expectations or not."

Those expectations will surely be there for a driver who has shown potential in her two part-time Nationwide seasons, most notably a fourth-place run this past March at Las Vegas that set the record for best finish by a woman in a NASCAR national-series race. And they will only ramp up once she moves into Nationwide full time and dips a toe into NASCAR's premier series.

"She faces a lot of tough criticism, and she does a good job of handling it," Earnhardt said. "I think she does a good job of keep a good attitude and not letting that kind of stuff change the person you are. She knows what she's here to do, she loves to drive race cars. She enjoys doing that, and has a good attitude about it."

Danica Patrick's Official Announcement on her move to NASCAR in 2012

Patrick takes stock in her career move to NASCAR

2012 plans: Full-time move to Nationwide for JRM; limited Cup slate with SHR

Danica Patrick might not even be a race car driver today, let alone have the opportunity to race in NASCAR full time in 2012, had Brooke Patrick not stepped away from the family go-kart nearly 20 years ago.

On Thursday, Patrick confirmed plans to take the next step in her career -- one which began in the Midwest, then to England as a teenager, and then a triumphant return to racing's heartland and the Indianapolis 500.

And now, her focus turns to NASCAR. Sitting alongside Bob Parsons, CEO and founder of GoDaddy, Patrick made it official Thursday: She will run the entire Nationwide Series schedule next season for JR Motorsports. In addition, she'll compete in between eight and 10 Sprint Cup Series races for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Patrick said climbing out of the ARCA car at Daytona in 2010 was "the most fun I had ever had in a race car." So making the transition to stock cars was the next natural evolution in her career.

"The experience was something I've really, really enjoyed," Patrick said. "The time is now. The opportunity is now. Bob and GoDaddy have made that possible. I want to do it.

"I don't want to wait years. I want to do it now. And I'm lucky enough to have a sponsor that will stand behind me and allow me to go."

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France welcomed Thursday's announcement.

"We are pleased Danica Patrick has chosen to race full time in NASCAR in 2012," France stated. "She has demonstrated a strong desire to compete and NASCAR provides the best opportunity to race against the top drivers in the world with the largest and most loyal fan base in motorsports on a week-to-week basis.

"Danica has shown solid improvement in NASCAR and we believe her decision to run full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with additional races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be exciting for our fans and a great challenge for her."

As to whether she'll make her Cup debut in the 2012 Daytona 500, Patrick left the door open.

"We're definitely considering that, but the schedule right now for the Sprint Cup races next year is not set," Patrick said. "It'll probably be about eight to 10 races. But the actual races themselves have not been chosen yet."

Whatever those races turn out to be, it appears it won't be long before she is running all of them on NASCAR's premier stage.

"We're very excited to have Danica Patrick and Go Daddy join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012 for a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule with the intention of us running her full time in Sprint Cup in 2013," team co-owner Tony Stewart stated. "We're proud of the fact she wants to come and be a part of Stewart-Haas Racing and what we've built with Ryan Newman and myself and all of our partners. Having Danica and Go Daddy as a combination at SHR is something we're really looking forward to."

In 1992, 8-year-old Brooke decided she'd like to try racing go-karts. It was a short-lived adventure, as she crashed four times in one race. So Danica climbed in as her replacement -- and has been hooked on racing ever since.

Patrick was anything but an immediate success at it. In fact, she admits she wasn't much better than her sister.

"In my first race in go-karts, I was lapped within six laps by the competition," Patrick said in a 2002 interview. "I knew I would have to concentrate, improve and be determined. But racing is something I wanted to do once I drove that kart for the first time."

However, Patrick stuck with it, improved as the season went on and finished second in her age group. The following year, Patrick finished second in her region and was fourth in the national Yamaha Sportsman class. And in 1994, Patrick won her first World Karting Association national championship.

She moved up in class and by 1996, was winning with regularity. As a 14-year-old, she dominated the Yamaha Junior and Restricted Junior classes, winning 39 of 49 feature races. Patrick also attended a driving school run by Lyn St. James -- the second woman to drive in the Indy 500 -- who invited her to the Brickyard in 1997 to watch the race and meet other influential people in the sport.

The advice Patrick received? One, make the switch from go-karts to open-wheeled cars. Two, go to England. And at 16, Patrick left her family and began competing in the Formula Vauxhall Winter Series.

Running the entire series in 1999, Patrick finished ninth. That gave her the confidence to advance to the British Zetek Formula Ford Series the following season, where she finished second at Brands Hatch -- the best performance by an American in the history of the event.

She also caught the eye of Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who was scouting young drivers for the Jaguar Formula 1 team he was managing. He was impressed enough that when she returned to the U.S., he signed her to a development deal with his Rahal Letterman Racing Indy-car team.

In 2002, Patrick got her first taste of what was to come when she tested a Busch Series car for ppc Racing. The following season, she raced in the Toyota Atlantic Series, finishing third in the points. Patrick matched that result in 2004, scoring 10 top-five finishes in 12 races.

At the end of the season, Rahal decided to promote her to a full-time ride in the Indy Racing League. And in 2005, Patrick made her IRL debut at Homestead, finishing 15th. Three races later, she scored her first top-five finish with a fourth at Motegi, Japan. And she became the first woman to lead a lap in the Indianapolis 500 when she nearly made a late-race fuel strategy gamble pay off, eventually settling for fourth and rookie of the year honors.

Patrick moved to Andretti Green Racing beginning in 2007 and one year later, became the first female driver to win an IRL race when she captured the Indy Japan 300 at Motegi, topping off her tank during the final caution and then conserving enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag.

She accepted her newest challenge in 2010 when she made her stock-car debut in the ARCA race at Daytona, then competed in 13 Nationwide Series races.

"The thing you see in Danica right away is how determined she is to be good at what she does. She's very dedicated to taking the time and effort to make the transition from Indy cars to stock cars," Stewart stated. "She has talent, she has the right mindset and she has the proper drive and determination. It doesn't matter who it is you're looking for, those are the key attributes that you look for in a driver, and Danica's got them."

So far in 2011, Patrick has one top-five and three top-10 finishes in seven Nationwide starts.

"We're thrilled with Danica Patrick's decision to join us for the 2012 season and looking forward to seeing her behind the wheel of a NASCAR Nationwide Series car on a consistent basis," stated Matt Jauchius, chief marketing and strategy officer for series sponsor Nationwide Insurance. "Her presence will continue to make our series stronger and more competitive. She has proven to raise awareness levels of our sport, sponsors and competitors, and that's good for everyone involved."

NASCAR's gain is IndyCar's loss.

"Danica has always been a great ambassador for IndyCar, and there is no doubt she has left a positive impression on our sport," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard stated. "She has touched millions of fans and many that were new to motorsports. Danica attracted a fan base that every athlete and sports property in the world would love to have.

"We should give her a great farewell the rest of this season as she opens a new page in her career and wish her continued success with her new direction. "

Rahal put it best when he was asked if Patrick should be considered as just another pretty face.

"Danica shakes your hand and, crunch, it's like a truck driver," Rahal said. "That's the yin and yang of Danica. The exterior is nice and pretty -- and underneath she is as tough as steel."

Pure Michigan 400

Dale Jr had a good day. Starting 8th and finishing 14th, he maintained his 9th place position in the Cup standings.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s appeal fails

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was adamant that he should have finished 14th instead of 15th in Monday's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International.
NASCAR didn't agree.

After protesting the order of finish for nearly 15 minutes, Earnhardt emerged from the NASCAR hauler giving the thumbs down signal to crew chiefs for Ryan Newman, David Ragan and Brian Vickers, who also questioned the results.

The biggest issue was whether Richard Childress Racing driver Clint Bowyer improved his position after the caution flag came out on the final lap to secure Marcos Ambrose's first Cup win.
NASCAR officials told Earnhardt that Bowyer did not improve his position and awarded him 11th. Earnhardt, who is fighting to stay in the top 10 in points, stayed at 15th.

"I thought the 33 (Bowyer) was in the accident and that we should be positioned in front of him,'' Earnhardt said. "Points are points, man. They're real important. But they said he maintained reasonable speed and was positioned to finish in front of me, which I can't argue with them.''
Although Earnhardt lost that battle, he improved a spot to ninth in the standings. With four races left before the Chase field is set he has a 36-point lead over 11th-place Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer moved up a spot after Denny Hamlin crashed early in the race en route to a 36th-place finish.
The top 10 in points and two wild cards based on the drivers with the most wins between 11th and 20th in points make the Chase. Brad Keselowski, 14th with two wins, currently has the first wild card spot. Hamlin at 12th with one win has the other.

Although the finish wasn't what Earnhardt wanted, it was the first time since he was third in points eight races ago that he has moved up in the standings.

"I was real happy with the way we ran,'' Earnhardt said as the series moves to Michigan this weekend. "I hated we didn't get our strategy to work out well. We didn't have the gas mileage we thought we were getting and ran a little short there.''

Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen

Dale Jr had a good run at Watkins Glen yesterday. After having to wait a day and then starting 25th, he made his way up through the field and missed the horrific crash on the last lap. Junebug finished 15th and went to the NASCAR hauler afterward to appeal his finishing position, which NASCAR did not agree with. (I'll post the article explaining that situation) He moved back up to 9th, which gives him a little more cushion in the point standings.

Next week the guys head out to Michigan where Dale Jr has had success in the past.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ninth place earns breathing room for Earnhardt

LONG POND, Pa. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. got exactly what he needed Sunday -- a ninth-place finish that gave him a reasonable margin for error heading into next Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen.

It was hardly a perfect performance. Glitches on pit road probably cost Earnhardt three or four spots at the finish. Nevertheless, Earnhardt solidified his 10th-place position in the Cup standings and goes to the Glen with a 23-point advantage over 11th-place Denny Hamlin.

"We had a real good car, and we had some real good speed in the car," Earnhardt said. "We had some struggles on pit road, and I know the guys on the team will get that sorted out -- and sometimes we just have mistakes.

"Sometimes the driver makes them, sometimes -- there's so many guys on the team it's rare when everyone is kind of clicking. We'll get it sorted out. We had good speed, though, we had a good car all day long, and [I'm] real happy how that worked out."

That kind of finish, Earnhardt's first top-10 since June 12 -- the last time the series came to Pocono -- gives him breathing room at the road course at the Glen, not one of his strongest tracks.

"Well, we're just going to try and go up there and steal a good finish -- like everyone else, you know," Earnhardt said. "You've got to do different strategy at the road-course races and pit once you get inside the [fuel] window and it's all kind of craziness. It's not really much fun, but that's the way it is."

Good Sam RV Insurance 500

I was right on the start/finish line for the race yesterday at Pocono. Brad did an incredible job of holding off Shrub and getting his second victory of the season. Dale Jr had a very good run all day, staying right around the top 10 and finishing 9th, his best finish since the race there in June. He remains 10th in points, but this given him a little breathing room over 11th place Denny Hamlin.

Next week the boys head up into New York to Watkins Glen.

I will post my pics from the race sometime this week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brickyard 400

Dale Jr had a good day in the 88 Chevy, leading for a few laps and having a somewhat decent car. He finished 16th and has fallen into 10th place in the Cup standings. He really needs to pick it up and get the motivation back that he and Stevie had at the beginning of the season.

Next is Pocono, and I will be there and will be sure to have plenty of pics for the blog!