In order to make the adjustment needed to succeed at the Cup level, Patrick needs a couple of years running in the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Truck Series. She needs to get acclimated to heavier race cars that are not so dependent on downforce (the weight of the Indy cars she drives ranges between 1,500 and 1,600 pounds while NASCAR cars are about 3,500 pounds).
To have a chance at longevity in racing stock cars at the top level, an open-wheel driver needs to put in a couple of years either racing the Nationwide Series or the trucks to get the basics down. It takes some getting used to when racing side-by-side. That’s the huge learning process that Patrick or anyone else must go through. She shouldn’t look at it as a step down if she runs the Nationwide or truck series. She should look at it as a lateral move.
In the past we’ve seen drivers like Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Dario Franchitti come from open-wheel racing to NASCAR only to struggle with the transition. No matter how talented these drivers are, there is a transition period that’s going to take time. And it’s not an easy thing. The same would hold true for Patrick.
All that said, do I think some organization would make Patrick an offer to come right into the Cup series? Yes, because she’s commercially appealing to sponsors, and has an exuberance about her that can only be good for the sport. There would be a sponsor or sponsors willing to take a chance on her starting off her NASCAR career in the Cup series, but she’s going to want to be competitive, and that’s just not going to happen the first couple of years.
When would it be best for Patrick to make the move from open-wheel racing to NASCAR? Well, her current contract with Andretti Green Racing runs through the end of this season. But before she makes a move, I believe she has to show more consistency go out and win some more races (her only IndyCar win came in the Japan 300 in April of 2008). Until she’s a consistent frontrunner in the IndyCar series race to race, I’d advise against a move to NASCAR.
Probably not. What she needs to do is hook on with an organization that has the resources so she can slowly advance and learn in equipment good enough to win races. Working in her favor, is all four of the aforementioned organizations have shown an interest in her. And it doesn’t have to necessarily be one of those four she goes with, but it would have to be a very good organization.
With all the attention Patrick would bring with a shift to NASCAR, there’s a concern it would affect her focus, and her interaction with her crew chief and team. But Patrick will stay focused on the tasks at hand. She’s no stranger to having to deal with a ton of media.
A lot is made of the fact that a season of NASCAR racing demands much greater endurance and strength than does a season of open-wheel racing. There are 36 points races in the Cup series compared to 17 in the IndyCar Series. But Patrick’s lack of size and weight (she’s five-foot, 100 pounds) should not be a concern. She’s in great shape, and has incredible stamina.
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She’d be accepted in NASCAR, and she would be great for the sport. She’s very well known, and she should have a good fan following.
Patrick can’t be impatient about learning the ropes in NASCAR. If she is, the experiment’s over, and she flunks out. I would never suggest any open-wheel driver coming to NASCAR and going straight into the Sprint Cup Series. To me, that’s a recipe for disaster. Two years and that driver will be gone from NASCAR. Patrick can’t make that mistake.
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May 7: Danica Patrick tells Tiffany Simons that winning the Indy 500 is among the feats she hopes to accomplish in her career.
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