Danica Patrick: Back to Burn in 2008?

FM Group RacingCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2008

Danica Patrick took the sports world by storm in 2005 when she became the first female driver to lead a lap at the Indianapolis 500. 

Her fourth place finish was the highest finish for a female driver in Indy 500 history.  Patrick went on to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated shortly thereafter and became the most recognizable face of the Indy Racing League in the process. 

But with Patrick’s increasing fame came backlash. Media and race fans have been vocal about her never winning a race. 

She has also faced harsh criticism from other drivers.  Established auto racing veterans including Richard Petty, Ed Carpenter, and Robbie Gordon have resented her for a variety of reasons including aggressive driving, her body weight giving her a competitive advantage, etc.

Patrick has been labeled by many as the “Anna Kournikova” of auto racing, referring to the fact that she is a beautiful woman, attracts attention for things off the track (i.e. Go Daddy commercials, FHM photo spreads, Jay-Z music videos, etc…), and because she has never won a race in her career. 

In reality, Patrick is an extremely talented race car driver and much more than a pretty face. 

She has been driving in the IRL for three seasons now and has shown improvement each year finishing 12th in the standings in 2005, ninth in 2006, and seventh in 2007. 

Her career best is a second place finish in 2007 at The Raceway at Belle Isle.

Patrick is back for her second season with Andretti Green Racing after racing with a mediocre Rahal Letterman team in 2005 and 2006. 

Andretti Green has superior racing equipment to Letterman and in the IRL, where successful qualifying is a major key to success, having quality equipment is the first step.

With Andretti Green, Patrick has learned a wealth of knowledge about her car and the various race tracks working side-by-side with the likes of 2006 Rookie of the Year Marco Andretti, 2004 IRL IndyCar Series Champion Tony Kanaan, and 2007 IRL IndyCar Series and Indy 500 Champion Dario Franchitti. 

Patrick also seems to be more comfortable with her race team, more trusting of her equipment, and she is slowly gaining respect in the garage area which will ultimately translate to favors on the race track. 

The departure of Dario Franchitti and the three-time IRL Champion Sam Hornish Jr. to NASCAR will also help her chances tremendously.  Franchitti and Hornish Jr. finished in first and fifth place, respectively, in the point standings last season.

The time has come for Patrick to fully mature as a race car driver. 

2008 will be the year she breaks through, silences her critics, and takes her first career checkered flag. 

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

by Derek Bolender