Circle Track Stock Car — 08 October 2010

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(Featured Columnist) on October 7, 2010

After a second place finish in the season ending IZOD IndyCar Racing Series race at Homestead-Miami, NASCAR’s female marketing machine is back in action this weekend for the 300 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.

Danica Patrick who will drive the No. 7 Tissot sponsored Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, will be looking to better her 31st place finish she posted back in February while making her second start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

When the green flag drops on Saturday afternoon, it will mark her eighth start in a series where she has yet to finish on the lead lap in her seven previous attempts.

During her first visit to Auto Club Speedway, Patrick found herself wrestling with an Impala that weighs twice as much and features far less downforce and braking than her Indy car ride.

By lap 18 she was already off the pace with the rest of the field, when she became the first driver to fall a lap down after starting the race 36th.  

It also became obvious that Patrick could not hold the throttle wide open and hug the white line on the bottom of the track, unlike the other drivers in the series who already knew where the preferred racing groove was and attacked it.

“With limited track time, you just can’t keep up with the greats in the sport,” said Patrick, who drives full-time for Andretti Autosport in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Patrick also added that, “The hardest thing to learn in NASCAR is the line around the track. It keeps changing, high, then low, and most tracks I’ve never run.”

To make matters worse, Patrick was caught twice speeding down pit lane even though she said her RPM and pit lights gauged indicated she was within range.

It’s time to just lay it all out on the line, and realize that her second place finish in another series does not justify that she is ready to continue in the NNS where she is having numerous problems.

Patrick expressed how hard the transition has been saying, “These drivers all know what they’re doing for the most part. I don’t. I don’t know what the car feels like.”

Patrick also added that, “I know when it’s good I can drive it, but I don’t know what it takes to make a good car at this point. I don’t know what to ask Tony to do to fix the car.”  

How quickly we forget that she will be without her high tech steering wheel, and no longer will she be able to rely on her “push to pass” button.

Gone will be her traction control switch, along with the rev limiter to keep her from speeding down pit road, which were her fault and not the equipment.

This weekend will mark the first time she revisits a track she has already raced at since joining the NASCAR series in February, and this will also be a chance for her to show just how much she has learned in the last seven races she has competed in.

“I’m interested to see how things progress this weekend. It’s the first time I’m returning to a track that I’ve raced on before in a stock car,” said Patrick who will once again be the center of attention on Saturday.

“We’ve been thinking about this for some time, and I’m confident this weekend will help us evaluate where we’re at.”

Expectations are still running high within the JR Motorsports organization, but there will come a time when she will overextend her welcome if she doesn’t begin to show type of improvement.

“So much of this year has been learning and familiarizing myself with this type of racing. I’m taking some comfort in heading back to Fontana, where I know a lot more of what to expect,” said Patrick.

Running two and three laps down are not what the fans want to see, and you have to wonder without a full-time commitment to run in the series if she is just here to take the money and run.

Reality is, her stock will go south very quickly if she continues to finish outside the top-25, especially with the superior equipment she is given by the organization.

Auto Club Speedway will be her most important race of the 2010 season, and we will see if any of this holds true, “I’m a lot more familiar with the interior of the car, restarts, getting up through the gears, and onto pit road. Those aspects were challenging for me.” 

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