Now that the 2013 Sprint Cup season is almost over, it's now time we take a look at NASCAR's power couple, Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse (or "Stenica," if you're into that sort of thing).
When rookies come onto the scene, we don't expect as much out of them like we would Jimmie Johnson or Kyle Busch. But with that being said, we've had rookies who have set the NASCAR world on fire, like Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne. Unfortunately, Patrick and Stenhouse aren't of that caliber.
First, let's take a brief look at their credentials. Patrick is 31 and has seven years of IndyCar experience that yielded one win in 2008. Sixty starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series produced one pole, one top-five, and seven top-10s. Thirty-five starts in the Sprint Cup Series has showed one pole and an eighth-place finish at Daytona in February.
Stenhouse, who will turn 26 in October, has 106 starts in the Nationwide Series with eight poles, eight wins, 39 top-fives and 62 top-10s. He won the Nationwide title in 2011 and 2012. Impressive figures for the young Roush driver, but as we have seen many times in the past, you could be the greatest Nationwide driver ever, and you could still fall flat on your face in the Sprint Cup. In 30 Sprint Cup starts for Stenhouse, he only has one pole to show for his efforts.
Neither driver has had a banner year this season, and both have had more good days than bad. Crashes have plagued Patrick, counting for all four of her 2013 DNFs. Aside from her pole at Daytona, she has only led five laps this season, all of them in the 500. Meanwhile, Stenhouse has managed to finish every 2013 event this year. He hasn't led a great number of laps this year, but he has still led more than Patrick with 29. Twenty-six of those laps were at Kansas, where he started third and finished 11th.
Stenhouse's rookie plight seems like the plight of many other rookies before him, and there is no reason to believe that he won't do better in his sophomore season. Once again, take into account the fact that he has zero DNFs this season. Also, take into account that he is with an established team that has been in NASCAR since he was just a tyke. His team has won two Daytona 500s and the 2003 Winston Cup championship. They also won the 2000 Rookie of the Year contest with Matt Kenseth.
Patrick's climb into contender status is going to be a lot harder. She has drives for a strong organization, and despite what others may say she is a racer. She is definitely the best female racer to come along in years. But whether it is a tendency to get in over her head (media darling or not, she's not immune to doing so), lack of communication between herself and her crew, or just plain old bad luck (she does drive a green car after all), Patrick's troubles look to continue for the foreseeable future.
Another factor that looks to hurt her more than help her is the fact that she'll be the forgotten stepchild of the Stewart-Haas organization. With all the focus being shifted to two Cup champions and a Daytona 500 winner, Patrick will be the odd (wo)man out. She may have a few more shining moments in 2014, maybe more than her 2013 total. But for better or for worse, Patrick is going to be just another marketing machine to get our sport in the open. She's done nothing this season to really prove otherwise.