Danica Patrick takes lumps at Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- As one motorsports executive said in a casual conversation, if Travis Pastrana wants an example of how not to break into NASCAR, the X Games star should take the opposite approach to Danica Patrick.
Let me explain.
Patrick, minus a few ARCA races, made the leap from the IndyCar Series to NASCAR by jumping right into the Nationwide Series. She didn't get the benefits of working her way up through the late models or the K&N Pro East Series, or even enough ARCA races.
Her results have been less than spectacular, and Saturday's 32nd-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway was another example of just how far she has to go.
So does the sport really need another star from outside stock car racing to come in and be mediocre, to be rushed into something instead of being properly developed? One could argue that Juan Pablo Montoya might be further along in the Sprint Cup Series today if the former Formula One star had been left to race more than half a season in the Nationwide Series.
Sam Hornish Jr. said Friday if he had it to do over again he would run a full Nationwide schedule before making the move, arguing that jumping in for a dozen or so races as Patrick has at JR Motorsports and Pastrana plans to at Michael Waltrip Racing is not the recipe for success.
Patrick is an unusual case. She is committed to the IndyCar Series through 2011, so she couldn't run a full Nationwide schedule this year or next. But she could be entered in more races in the lower series.
If Patrick and Pastrana are to be the magnets that bring different demographic groups into the sport, then they must be successful. We've seen the attention span of fans isn't nearly what it used to be. Those who are used to Pastrana making spectacular jumps on two wheels probably won't be willing to watch him ride around the back of the pack for two or three hours.
Danica's Double 2010
Danica Patrick raced full time in the Izod IndyCar Series for powerhouse Andretti Autosport in 2010. She raced part time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports team. Check out how she performed in both series right here.
Danica's Double 2010
Patrick argues that people pick a driver to pull for based on personality and whether they can relate to what they see and hear. In other words, whether they like the story. She referred to the coverage around her.
But the coverage around Patrick isn't nearly what it was in February at Daytona, and it won't be nearly that big eight months from now if she doesn't start performing.
"I'll be successful if given enough time," Patrick said Friday.
But will fans be willing to give her time any more than MWR will give Pastrana time before throwing him into the fire after running in seven or so Nationwide races next year? Probably not. Patience is not a virtue these days.
Just ask Hornish.
"If I had to do it over again, I would have run a full Nationwide season before I started running Cup just so you have a year to just focus on these cars instead of going back and forth from Indy cars to Nationwide and then trying to run some Cup races at the end," said Hornish, who appears headed back to Nationwide full time in 2011 with no sponsor available at Penske for a Cup ride.
"It's too hard to go out there and think you're going to run a handful of races in the Nationwide Series and then you're going to be able to go run Cup."
Patrick is finding that out.
Let's hope Pastrana doesn't fall into the same trap.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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