Monday, February 27, 2012

Danica SpeedWeeks

Danica Mania
This wasn’t supposed to be a column about Danica Patrick.  It was supposed to be about Daytona SpeedWeeks.  The kickoff to the NASCAR season.  NASCAR’s Super Bowl.

But with rain still falling at Daytona and the 500 now scheduled for today at 7 p.m. eastern, it's a good opportunity to take a look at Danica's week to date.


Besides, from the beginning it has been Danica SpeedWeeks.  She’s been Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning rolled into one.  She’s seemingly been on every pre-race show, every Speed channel report, every ESPN Sports Center.  At the center of every race.  Only the Camping World Truck Series race was Danica free. 
I’m not blaming her.  In fact, give her credit.  She never shied away from an interview request or ducked a question.  It wasn’t as if she was out there asking to be on the shows.  They were asking her. 
And when the racing started there she was, right in the middle of things.  Her wreck in the 150-mile qualifying race was huge.  HUGE.  She walked away and never whined, handled it like a veteran.  Her stock went way up with NASCAR fans after that one.
Not so much the Nationwide race.  After qualifying on the pole, Patrick led a few laps with first Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and then Tony Stewart pushing her.  Pushing someone else was more challenging for her, as it is for most drivers.  She brushed the wall. She dropped back.  But she was able to run in the middle of the pack on her own, something of a surprise.
By the last quarter of the race, however, she was slipping back and that’s when her JR Motorsports teammate, Cole Whitt, came across her.    Whitt, 20, is moving up from NASCAR’s entry-level truck Series this year and was making only his fourth Nationwide start.  He was riding around at the back of the pack, attempting to stay out of trouble, when he decided to try and help his teammate.
 It may be a long time before he does that again.   
Whitt bumped and then turned Patrick, sending her crashing into the wall.  It was the type of accident seen repeatedly during SpeedWeeks as drivers with a lot more experience than Whitt made the same mistake.  It should have been obvious to everyone that Whitt was trying to help her, not wreck her.  Obvious to everyone except Patrick.  ESPN quickly cut away from her in-car radio transmission, but later aired it, complete with an unofficial record number of bleeped F-bombs. 
“The (bleeping) 88 hit me while we were in a big pack,” Patrick said.  “What the (bleep)?”
“What the (bleep) is he thinking?”
Whitt was thinking he was trying to help.  But he manned up and took full blame. 
“I wouldn’t expect her to be happy about it,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be happy about it either.  I don’t know why anyone would expect her to be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great.’
“The last thing I want to do is take out a teammate. So to Danica and her whole crew, I’m sorry. It’s just part of this type of racing. I was trying to get hooked up with the 7 car in the tandem draft and I just made contact getting into the corner, completely my fault.”
The tirade does checks off another box on Patrick’s resume.  She can swear like a man.  Folks in IndyCar already knew that, where her temper tantrums had become legend and all too familiar. 
I’m sure NASCAR fans will react favorably to Patrick’s blistering of Whitt.  But it better not become a weekly occurrence.  There’s a lesson here for Patrick.  Man up.  She won’t be running with Earnhardt and Stewart every week.  She’ll be surrounded by drivers like Cole Whitt and James Buescher; drivers in many cases with less experience than her.  They’ll make mistakes, just as she’ll make mistakes.  She needs to realize everyone isn’t out to wreck her, especially her teammates.  Most of all she needs to realize she can’t throw a hissy-fit every time somebody bumps her.  It will get old in a hurry.  Can you imagine the reaction if it had been Kurt Busch cussing out another driver?
If NASCAR is smart – and it usually is – they’ll slap Patrick with a fine for her language, just to help keep Danica Mania going for another week.

If Patrick is smart, it won’t happen again. 

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