At first glance, it is difficult to compare Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick: one is a Sprint Cup veteran, while the other is in the nascent stages of her NASCAR career.
Earnhardt Jr. has 18 wins notched under his belt in the Sprint Cup Series. Danica has one win as a true professional in the IZOD IndyCar series, though she also accomplished the best finish for a woman at any top-circuit NASCAR event ever in 2011 (fourth).
Though Earnhardt Jr. most definitely has a truckload more experience on NASCAR racetracks, he also faces much better competition each week against NASCAR's best.
As a Nationwide Series driver, this could work to Danica's advantage in getting a win before Jr., but it could also prove more difficult.
Although Danica will be on track more often with less experienced, less accomplished drivers than Jr., she also must face a hurdle that is unique to NASCAR when compared to other sports.
That is, though the Nationwide Series participants may be, on average, slightly less skilled, every Nationwide Series race features at least a few Sprint Cup drivers.
All but a handful of the Nationwide races last year were won by full-time Sprint Cup drivers. To Danica's advantage, Carl Edwards has elected not to run a full schedule in the Nationwide Series this year.
In other words, she will be strongly outmatched, in terms of NASCAR experience, in every race in which she participates in 2012. Moreover, more than a few tracks on the race program this year are tracks in which she has never once raced a stock car.
In a sense, to use a now archaic term, she may indeed get "Busch-whacked" in 2012 despite performing well and putting up some gritty performances.
Earnhardt Jr. is in a much-publicized slump, in terms of wins. Slumps, as most long-term sports statistics prove are meant to be, and are, broken eventually. Very few sane people would consider Jr. to have already won his last Sprint Cup race.
He is coming off of his best year within the last few, and truly almost won the Coca-Cola 600 last year in Charlotte before running out of gas on the last lap of Turn 4.
Playing the percentages, the better guess is probably for Earnhardt Jr. to break his slump and get to Victory Lane before Danica visits it for the first time.
However, Danica could easily turn in a single great performance early in the season and get that first win before Jr. hits his stride. The most ironic outcome would be for Danica to win one of the few Sprint Cup races she enters this year before Jr. achieves that illusive, drought-busting win.
If this was a political race (no pun intended) the odds-on favorite would have to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. But election nights (and race days) can yield surprising results. Las Vegas should set up a proposition bet for the eventual outcome.
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