Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yes, Danica Patrick can Win at Both Daytona and Indianapolis in 2018. Here's Why.

I'm rather neutral when it comes to supporting Danica Patrick.

After her impressive debut Indianapolis 500 mile race in 2005, in which she finished fourth and led 19 laps, Danica Patrick was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
I've never really been a big fan of her, but I'm certainly not a hater either. In fact, I have never understood why so many race fans do hate her. She's broken barriers and set numerous records and standards for women in motorsports. Sure, to call her an "all-time great" may be a stretch, but she certainly was good enough to race in her respective divisions for as long as she has.

I was excited for her in 2008 when she won her first (and to date only) IndyCar Series race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. I was also intrigued by her move to NASCAR in 2010, which became a full-time move in 2012 when she decided to leave IndyCar. I wanted to see her succeed, but aside from a pole at the 2013 Daytona 500, there have only been a few bright spots in her NASCAR career. In the Cup Series, she has only seven top-tens and has never even cracked the top-five in nearly 200 races.

Patrick celebrates her only IndyCar Series win with second-place finisher Hélio Castroneves and third-place finisher Scott Dixon.
(Photo: Jonathan Ferry/Getty Images)
When I consider hypothetical situations, two of them that involve Patrick come to mind immediately. The first is "What if she had stayed in IndyCar?" Who knows. I'm fairly certain she would have stayed at Andretti Autosport, which means the late Dan Wheldon would have never been in the position he was to replace her in 2012, nor would James Hinchcliffe have ended up with her ride after Wheldon's tragic death at Las Vegas. She probably would have won at least a couple more races (she finished second twice in 2010). And maybe, just maybe, her face would be on the Borg-Warner Trophy, immortalized in American open-wheel racing history as the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500.

Patrick moved to the NASCAR Nationwide Series part-time with JR Motorsports in 2010 while continuing to race full-time in IndyCar with Andretti Autosport. She made the full-time switch to NASCAR in 2012, moving to Cup full-time the following year.
(Photo: Car and Driver Blog)
The other hypothetical situation is "What if she had stayed in the then-Nationwide Series a bit longer, for at least two to three more years, before moving to the Cup Series full-time?" Again, we'll never know for sure, but let's assume she remains with JR Motorsports, one of the top organizations in what is now called the Xfinity Series. I'm willing to bet she wins a race or two here as well, maybe on a road course or a super speedway. Regardless, she would have at the very least gotten valuable experience against competition closer to her skill level at the time, which would have better prepared her for her move to NASCAR's top level of racing.

Patrick moonlighted in the Nationwide Series for Turner Scott Motorsports after moving to Cup but never ran a race outside of Daytona or Talladega.
(Photo: Action Sports Photography/
But facts are facts, and the fact of the matter is that she was rushed to the Cup Series with a tremendous amount of pressure and never lived up to such lofty expectations. Frankly, how could one expect her to do so?

Patrick struggled early and often in her Sprint Cup Series career, though not every accident was entirely her fault.
(Photo: John Harrelson/Getty Images)
Eventually, the struggles became too much for her to handle. Faced with poor on-track performance relative to her Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, combined with sponsorship woes after's departure that included a lawsuit with Nature's Bakery, Patrick announced yesterday that, after tomorrow's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and (most likely) Matt Kenseth won't be the only ones calling it quits on their full-time careers.

Patrick tearfully announced her retirement yesterday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
(Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
However, Patrick also announced something that was perhaps the most surprising thing of all. She will compete in the 2018 Daytona 500 in February before returning to the Indianapolis 500 in May.

Patrick has not run the Indianapolis 500 since 2011 when she finished tenth.
(Photo: Eric Gilbert/
Now obviously, there are still several things that need to be sorted out. We have no idea of the team for whom Patrick will be driving in either event. Stewart-Haas will most likely not be an option for Daytona as they are expected to have a full four-car team once again. Likewise, her former IndyCar team is unlikely to be a possibility, as their fifth car run only at Indianapolis will be driven by the late Justin Wilson's brother, Stefan. The only rumor so far is that Patrick could possibly run both races for Chip Ganassi, who owns successful race teams in both series and is interested in making the idea come to life. But despite the unknowns, mark my word and take this down.

Danica Patrick can win both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2018.

Now before you accuse me of being an unrealistic Danica fanboy, let me explain my reasoning.

Patrick led laps on superspeedways several times in her career.
(Photo: Fox Sports)
When it comes to Patrick's performance in NASCAR, there's no question her greatest strength was running on restrictor plate tracks. Patrick has led laps at Daytona and Talladega on numerous occasions. The way those tracks work, anyone who has an understanding of the draft who plays his or her cards right can win the race. Patrick was running third on the final lap of the 2013 Daytona 500 before fading to eighth. Had things gone slightly differently, she may have been able to win that one.

Patrick collided with Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe in the pit lane on lap 171 of the 2008 Indianapolis 500.
(Photo: Michael Damsky/Reuters)
Likewise, Patrick's best track in IndyCar was undoubtedly Indianapolis. Aside from the pictured 2008 collision, Patrick finished in the top ten in every Indianapolis 500 in which she participated from 2005 to 2011. Another thing working in her favor is the new aero kit being introduced for the IndyCar Series in 2018. With new cars, every driver will have somewhat of a learning curve in next year's Month of May.

Still, Patrick will likely need to do some testing to readjust to a single-seater. If I were in her position, I would strongly consider running at least the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course to give her additional IndyCar seat time before qualifying for the 500. But given how quickly drivers such as Kurt Busch, Alexander Rossi, and Fernando Alonso have been able to adapt to IndyCars after never having been in one before, it would be foolish to think Patrick cannot do the same after her absence.

Let's also say she works out a deal with Ganassi. Ganassi has pulled off the double himself; in 2010, Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 while Dario Franchitti kissed the bricks at Indianapolis. His teams are both more than capable of winning, and while Patrick and Ganassi have never worked together, such a combination should be able to provide results should everything go their way.

Should Patrick be expected to win either of these races? Probably not.

But she absolutely can.

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