Danica Patrick: 7 Biggest Challenges of Her Move to NASCAR in 2012
Career changes can be intimidating, although these days it is much less so when that career change involves a step up the ladder of success and accomplishment with a guaranteed paycheck.
Such is the case with Danica Patrick, who intends to move full time into the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year.
She has eased her transition. Patrick has raced stock cars in both 2010 and 2011. Her combined resume has not been overly impressive, but it has not been without some modest achievements.
Despite this, 2012 will almost certainly be her most difficult year thus far in NASCAR. Indeed, it may prove to be the most difficult year of her racing career.
There are numerous challenges that await her. Some, she and her fans can anticipate; others only time can tell how it will affect her.
The 2012 Nationwide Series is poised to attract larger television audiences and sell more tickets than perhaps at any time in its history with her full-time commitment.
That is a heavy load to bear, but she certainly knew this when she decided to change paths. Here are some other obstacles that could hinder that path to success.
This will not pose a new challenge, but more of a continued and ongoing one. Although she has been in the spotlight of the media for years, she has not endured a full season in the NASCAR media.
The IndyCar Series has most likely prepped her well, but its racing schedule and season length is much shorter, with more breaks between races. This will pose the biggest challenge towards the grind at season's end, particularly if she happens to be a championship contender.
Fortunately for Danica, she drives for a man more accustomed to dealing with the NASCAR media than almost anyone in the business: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He is more than qualified to mentor her through this stress and provide valuable advice.
Lack of Experience
Next season will not go perfectly for the No. 7 GoDaddy.com/Tax Slayer Chevrolet. One prohibiting obstacle is Danica's lack of familiarity on certain tracks in the NASCAR program.
In particular, she may struggle very hard at her first race in Darlington. It is a notoriously difficult track, even for seasoned Sprint Cup drivers. She has only ran once at Bristol and Dover, which could be considered almost equally difficult as Darlington.
She has also never raced at Talladega or Kentucky in stock cars.
It is not to say that extensive experience is a required component for success. It will, though, prove a major challenge for her because she will be subject to a less-forgiving NASCAR learning curve than she has been in the past two seasons.
Her Mistakes Will Be Magnified
The crash pictured happened in March, 2011 at Bristol Motor Speedway during the EZ Seed 300. That was her first time racing there, and it could be shrugged off as a "rookie" mistake by someone learning the trade.
Next season, she will be returning to all of these tracks (save for a few, as mentioned previously). Her critics, especially, and analysts, more generally, will be quicker to pounce on her mistakes.
They will analyze, probably over-analyze, and tweet about it relentlessly. This could lower her confidence and make her more apt to be too cautious. That, in turn, may lead her to achieve sub-par results for fear of making more mistakes.
It is expected that she will be more prone to mistakes and drive more timidly at tracks which are new to her; she will be lambasted for those mistakes at more familiar tracks.
This will be the case at the commencement of next season; she has driven at Daytona and Las Vegas twice each as a stock car driver already. She will get her second look at Phoenix at the end of the 2011 season.
Although the 2012 Nationwide schedule has not yet been released, these are the most likely first three races next year.
Getting Her First Win
Danica Patrick has been to victory lane once in her professional career as an IndyCar driver. Now that she has committed to the Nationwide Series full time, getting that first win in stock cars will be a major hurdle and career milestone, if and when it happens.
Her stats are not necessarily poor in NASCAR, but they certainly do not point to her winning in 2011. If I may opine, that would be one of the biggest surprises of the season.
In her NASCAR career, she has one top five and three top 10s in 21 starts.
She may win next year, but this will be one of her biggest challenges of 2012. If she runs solid and consistent throughout the whole season, a lack of wins would not be considered a failure. On the other hand, it would be fabulous for her, her sponsors and NASCAR as a whole to travel down victory lane.
Any Sort of Major Success
If Danica's season is deemed successful, it is without doubt that the media and fans will be calling on her to jump up to the Sprint Cup as soon as possible.
What if she happened to nail down her first victory early next season and then continued with some finishes in the top 10? This would present a great (though, probably welcome) challenge to her the entire year.
That, in turn, may put heavy pressure on her to sign a deal to go full time into the Sprint Cup in 2013. This is not a likely scenario, but true success next year, almost as much as poor performance, will pose a various array of challenges in terms of Danica's career intentions in NASCAR.
Jealousy of Other Nationwide Drivers
This is not certain to happen, but it could prove a major obstacle for Danica if it does happen.
When I say Nationwide drivers, I specifically mean those driving full time on that circuit; I am not referring to the Sprint Cup drivers who pull double duty and often race in it (e.g. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski).
It could happen to the full time Nationwide guys at the top of the standings—drivers who may be in line to earn a spot in a Sprint Cup ride, but feel threatened by Danica Patrick's star power and media popularity.
The biggest issue will be that if this does occur, or even if it is only rumour, the NASCAR media will be all over it. They seem to feast on tiffs, fights and any form of disgruntlement.
It could become a distracting topic that Danica Patrick has to deal with to the detriment of her concentration on trying to improve herself as a stock car driver.
The Biological Clock
This is purely speculative but could really pose a challenge. Danica will turn 30 early in the season next year. Currently, she is married without children.
Human instinct is a powerful challenge to overcome. Though it cannot be conclusively stated that this will particular instinct will surface, what if it does at some point in 2012?
It could cause a loss of focus on racing, for sure.