Danica Patrick: Realistic Expectations for the Rookie's Sprint Cup Season

Michael GuadalupeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

CONCORD, NC - JANUARY 21:  Danica Patrick of Stewart Haas Racing on January 21, 2013 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jamey Price/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jamey Price/Getty Images

All eyes will be on Danica Patrick when she makes her full-time Sprint Cup debut in February.

Realistically, Danica’s season will more than likely be lackluster.

She made no real impact in the Nationwide Series last year and still lacks experience when it comes to racing in the Sprint Cup cars. 

Add in the fact that NASCAR is debuting a new model for their stock cars, the Gen-6, and Danica should be expected to struggle during her first full-time year.

She might end up surprising NASCAR fans, though, as she will be on one of the top teams in the sport and has access to some of the best equipment in NASCAR.

She also demonstrated her road course ability last year and was a strong contender to win the race at Montreal until running over a shoe which was thrown on the track.

Danica will have a lot to overcome during the 2013 Sprint Cup season.  She will have some of the best in NASCAR helping her, though, especially since her boss and teammate, Tony Stewart, has had great success since he switched over to stock car racing from Indy cars,

2013 will be a year for Patrick to gain even more experience than she was able to in 2012.  She will be a main focal point in NASCAR as the season starts up in February.


Picking Her Battles

One of Danica's biggest flaws last season was her inability to know when to pick her battles.  From the incident with Regan Smith at Bristol, to her scuffle with Landon Cassill at Kansas, Danica has to learn when to pick her fights this season.

Hopefully, with the help of her crew chief Tony Gibson, Danica can remain somewhat calm if she has to deal with drivers trying to push her around.

After all, it's not worth wrecking her car over 30th place.

Last season, NASCAR fans saw a preview of her hot-headedness.  In the end, though, she only hurt herself.  When she tried to seek revenge on Cassill, for example, Patrick sent herself into the wall and ended her day.

Now with that experience under her belt, Danica will hopefully start to learn when to pick her battles next season.


Road Course Potential

Danica will more than likely struggle during her first full-time Sprint Cup year.

However, there is one type of track where she has the potential to walk away with a win:

Road courses.

She held her own during the Nationwide Series race in Montreal and was dominating in first place until a mysterious shoe was thrown on the track.  Patrick ran it over, and it ruined her day.

And while there will be tougher competition for her when it comes to road courses in the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick will have two chances this season to stand out.

Her Indy car experience will help her greatly during the road course races, and fans shouldn't be surprised to see Patrick running up front or even possibly going for the win during the Watkins Glen and Sonoma races this year.


The Regular Season

Besides at road courses, Patrick won’t really stand out during the regular season.  She failed to do anything during her limited Sprint Cup run last season, and when looking at how she did in Nationwide, Patrick also failed to do anything in that series as well.

She had an average finish of 18.8 and only managed to make it into the top 10 four times.  She clearly struggled in the Nationwide Series, so how can Patrick be expected to improve once she joins the Sprint Cup drivers?

With the new Gen-6 car debuting, Patrick's best course of action for the regular season will be to sit back and listen to crew chief Tony Gibson and anyone else in the Stewart-Haas organization who might have advice for her.

Of course Patrick should try to go for the win during each race, but she will need to gain experience as well.

Don't be surprised to see Danica finish around 20th or worse for several races.  She has the equipment for top-10 finishes, but as a driver, Danica just isn't at the top level yet.


Making The Chase?

Could Danica Patrick make The Chase?  It's highly unlikely, but like every other driver, she has an equal chance to make The Chase this season.

If she manages to use her Indy experience to win on both road courses this year, she might end up sneaking into The Chase as a wild card.

Or, by some miracle, she could prove her Nationwide Series run was a fluke, and Danica could finish well enough throughout the season to hold onto one of the top-10 Chase spots without needing to win a race, similar to what Kevin Harvick did in 2012.

Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine Danica making The Chase.  While she has an equal chance to make it in when the 2013 season starts up, if her Nationwide season last year was a reflection of what we can expect out of her in 2013, Patrick won't place well enough to make The Chase.

2013 should be looked at as a year for Danica to gain more experience.  It seems unrealistic to think she will have extreme success right away. 

She might end up being one of NASCAR's top drivers someday, but as for this season, Danica will be lucky to end the season with a couple of top 10s.  Her biggest chance for success will be the road courses this year, but outside those races, Danica will more than likely struggle as she looks to gain experience in the Sprint Cup Series.