Danica Patrick: 10 Things She Still Needs to Improve to Move Up NASCAR Ladder

Todd JacobsCorrespondent IApril 7, 2011

Danica Patrick: 10 Things She Still Needs to Improve to Move Up NASCAR Ladder

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    Danica Patrick NASCAR Sprint Cup rumors are swirling.Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Danica Patrick has been a major draw in every series she has raced in, and now that she is back with IRL after a stint with NASCAR Nationwide.  The buzz is that sponsor Go Daddy is bucking for her to move up the ladder to NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2012.

    Mark Martin's No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports ride is currently sponsored by Go Daddy in Cup and he will be moving to Turner Motorsports at the conclusion of the 2011 season.  This leaves the door wide open for Patrick to move up but where will she race?

    Jimmy Spencer of Speed TV's Race Hub was one of the first to say on air that Patrick is most likely to move to Stewart Haas Racing as a third team.  With Go Daddy gift wrapped as a sponsor it is a logical move for her to race with Stewart's Hendrick Motorsports satellite team.

    Is Danica Patrick ready to move up the ladder?  There is a laundry list of work she must put in if she expects to succeed at the top level of NASCAR and it would not hurt if she improved this season in IRL either.   Simona de Silvestro has not helped Danica's stock with her lights out performance in the first race of the IRL season last month. The following are 10 things Danica needs to improve to move up the ladder.

10. Don't Get Flustered Easily

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    Danica Patrick expresses her displeasure with Ryan Truex.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Fiery is a good quality for a driver but getting flustered under pressure is something Danica Patrick will need to control.  She does get noticeably excited when things do not go her way or she gets flustered after making a mistake.

    Danica's voice rises several octaves and she is easily frustrated when changes to her car do not help her.  Her ability to keep calm and relay information will be essential if she moves up to NASCAR Sprint Cup.

    It will not go over well if shrieks and cannot solve problems from behind the wheel.  Danica does not want to come into the series and be known as a whiner or a crybaby.

9. Car Set Up and Understanding Her Crew Chief

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    TOny Eury Jr. has been the right person to teach Danica PatrickAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Tony Eury Jr. is a competitive person by nature but his coupling with Danica Patrick has been a perfect match.  Eury Jr. has a clean slate with Patrick and he has learned to bite his tongue and be patient.

    Danica has learned through Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Eury Jr. how to relay information accurately to fix the car setup.  Patrick has come a long way since her first test session but she has much more work to do if she is going to move up the ladder.

    Danica became frustrated when Tony Eury Jr. would make a change during practice and the car became tougher to drive.  Adjustments in practice will sometimes require the driver to drive a corner deeper or back it off earlier to get the full effect of a crew chief's adjustment.  She has made progress in this department but she needs to learn patience, especially in practice sessions.

8. Learn the Untold Etiquette of NASCAR Cup Garage

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    Danica discusses car set ups for Daytona with owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jason Smith/Getty Images

    The NASCAR Sprint Cup garage is a different beast.  In these days of every driver parking their million-dollar motorhomes inches apart, it is a close knit community on the weekends. 

    The current cup drivers know each other inside and out and they know who they can trust and who they are weary of on the track.  Danica Patrick will need to spend plenty of off time walking the motorhome lot and learning everyone's quirks and demeanor.

    Racing the 36 race 10-month circuit is just as much about fitting in as it is learning all the new tracks and set ups.  Danica Patrick will have to turn on the high school charm and do her best not to make waves and fit in for her first season with the big boys.

7. Learn How to Give Space and Take Space

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    Danica Patrick learned a hard lesson in Bristol about giving space.Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Danica Patrick's ascension in her driving career has been through the open wheel ranks.  She has learned that when cars bang wheels, the end results can be cataclysmic.  Now she has become accustomed to durability of heavy stock cars and she has learned she can rub fenders and continue racing.

    This is not a good thing for Patrick.  When she moves up to cup, they will not tolerate the upstart rookie leaning on them as they head into a corner.  She will have to learn to give space to get space and when she goes down a few laps she will have to learn the subtleties of being a good back marker.

6. Demands on Cup Drivers Spare Time Is Exausting

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    Danica already deals with throngs of fans on a daily basis and once she moves to Cup there will be no spare time.Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Danica Patrick is already one of the most sought after drivers of any circuit but once she goes full time NASCAR's top division she will learn the jobs is grind for 10 to 11 months out the year.

    Mark Martin said before his first unofficial retirement from the sport of NASCAR that one of the reasons for him wanting to take a break were the demands of sponsor appearances on a weekly basis.  It was that or having to pimp Viagra every week that made Martin want to get out of the sport for awhile.

    Danica has been a trooper when it comes to appearances and signing autographs but she will quickly learn the 36-race schedule is a grueling grind that some drivers are not prepared for.

5. Learn How to Communicate with Her Spotter

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    NASCAR spotters can make or break a Cup driver.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    A NASCAR crew chief is important but a knowledgeable spotter is the key to finishing races and learning the nuances of every track on the circuit.

    The communication between the spotter and the driver must be a symbiotic relationship in which both participants knows what the other is looking for.  Danica will need an experienced spotter if she plans to move up the ladder to Cup and her spotter will have to have extensive knowledge.

    The best spotters are like caddies in golf.  They know the best places to arc a car into the corner.  They know where ever nasty bump is on every track and they know which driver is driving with a chip on their shoulder.  Danica's spotter will play a major role in her success or failure.

     

4. Learning How Adjust to a Cup Car over the Course of a Green Flag Run

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    Danica Patrick performed well during green flag runs in Las Vegas.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Green flag runs in NASCAR Sprint Cup can be draining for drivers.  There is a plethora of issues that must be dealt with.  From fatigue to changes in the car from the start of a run to the end of a run.

    When tires fall off cars will handle differently.  The best crew chiefs set their cars up to perform at their peak as the tires fall off and the driver becomes more important. 

    Fuel load will also play a part on some of the longer tracks NASCAR goes to.  Learning how drive differently as fuel load burns off is not as critical in NASCAR as it is in IRL but it does play a role.  Danica will need to learn how these adjustments will work to her advantage.

3. Learning Differences in Tire Wear at Different Tracks

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    Tire wear and fuel mileage are major keys in Cup and learning how to handle both early will set Danica apart.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Danica Patrick is learning tires are one of the most important tools in NASCAR and on the Cup level it is a whole other ball game.  Tire wear on the newly paved tracks is changing from their historical norms but their are still tracks that are critical when it comes to saving tires.

    Danica's limited experience on the older tracks may bite her if she goes full time in 2012.  She struggled with corner entry and braking at Bristol and was definitely intimidated by the fast half mile track.

    If she would have been on a long green flag run late in that race, tire wear may have been an issue.  Tracks such as Dover and Indianapolis will require better tire management and Danica will learn the hard way. 

     

     

2. Pit Road on and off Is a Huge Factor Danica Must Master Early

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    Pit stops are the difference between running in the top ten and struggling to stay on the lead lapJeff Gross/Getty Images

    Learning how to navigate a NASCAR Sprint Cup pit road takes many drivers years to learn.  If Danica Patrick can learn the ins and outs of how to accelerate and control her speed between the timing lines she will be an immediate success on the Cup level.

    One of the masters of manipulating the timing lines is Jimmie Johnson and even the five-time champ struggled in Martinsville, picking up a speeding penalty.  The art of running 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, then backing the car down to the speed limit as the timing lie is crossed, can pick up two to three places on pit road each stop.

    Danica has tinkered with manipulating the timing lines but for the most part she has run pit road with a straight speed.  It is important to remember she is still very new to the NASCAR style of pitting she will take a few years to catch on.  Nothing beats experience.

1. Earning Respect of Fellow Cup Drivers

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    Danica shares an umbrella with Danica Patrick.Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    Danica Patrick will have to politic if she is in a NASCAR Sprint Cup ride in 2012.  Many of the Cup drivers will feel she is not ready and winning over their confidence and respect will be essential for her to develop into a NASCAR Sprint Cup contender.

     

    No one will cut Patrick any breaks when she does move up the ladder and she will need to seek out every driver she will be competing with.  She will have to learn each individual drivers style and their quirks on and off the track.

     

    Coming into the fraternity of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers is never an easy task but coming into NASCAR Sprint Cup with the fanfare of Danica Patrick will lead to bitter feelings and some early animosity for Patrick.  She will not have an easy road if the rumors are true and she does move up to Cup but Danica has survived this far in her career in a man's world and now she may face the toughest test of all.