Thursday, July 1, 2010

Danica – Racing Into History or Spinning the Wheels?

I have been struggling for almost a week on this post. I wanted, very dearly, to be able to offer some real, positive facts regarding Danica and her NASCAR racing, but every time I began to check a fact or statistic, I had to reevaluate my position. As a result, it’s been difficult to determine my own feelings and opinions on the subject.

While I am certainly not the lead trumpet player on the Danica bandwagon, I like Danica. I like her focus, her competitive nature, and her desire to do well, despite the tremendous pressures. While watching the ARCA race at Daytona in February, I was extremely encouraged. Danica finished a respectable 7th, even after a free slide down the front stretch. She asked questions, improved her technique, and generally brought the car home with little damage. Not a bad day’s work in the world of stock car racing.

Her Nationwide stint has not impressed me as much, regardless of her gender, which I will be the first to admit should not be a factor. In short, she’s had 4 starts, all of which she finished in the low to mid 30’s. Twice she was involved in wrecks, whether of her own making or not, meaning she has a 50% record of finishing a race on the track. And, there’s little numerical difference between the finishes on the track and the finishes in the garage. She arguably has one of the best rides in the Nationwide series, and this is the best she can do?

I understand about learning curves. I totally ‘get’ that she’s jumping from one style of racing into another. But, at times, I can’t help but wonder if she even has a clue about NASCAR. Has she ever actually watched a race as a spectator? Furthermore, this is her JOB. When I find myself in unfamiliar waters at my job, I study, investigate, collect data, ask questions, turn to more experienced colleagues and finally, I do my freaking homework. As a driver, how can she seriously expect to be competitive if she doesn’t understand some of the more simple concepts (at least to me) of stock car racing? I have seen footage of drivers and crew chiefs watching reruns of race after race to gain information and a potential advantage. Some very prominent drivers have admitted using video games to familiarize themselves with tracks. Danica’s chatter on her radio at Louden makes me question her commitment and basic understanding. Don’t believe me? Check some of the articles out there. I suppose I should mention that she IS asking questions – relevant questions. I can’t help but wonder if a little study and prep could have eliminated the need for rudimentary questions and driving, thus allowing her to perform better. I don’t expect top 5 or top 10 finishes. I do expect someone with a racing license and incredible hype, male or female, not to perform at a level equal to pulling a random fan from the stands and throwing them in the car.

As I stated in my first paragraph, I’m having personal difficulty reconciling Danica’s performance, or lack thereof. A part of me wonders if she is perpetuating the myth that women can’t hack racing with the “big boys”, thereby bringing more harm than good. Is she honestly there because she’s petite and pretty and possesses a racing license, or because she can drive the heck out of a car? How will these impact current and future attempts by women to be taken as serious racing competitors? The current numbers don’t look good. Danica is 63rd in the points, and if you’re out there checking women drivers in the Nationwide series, the next closest (and only other) is Chrissy Wallace in the 82nd points position. Chrissy, however, has competed in only 2 races this season, more due to a lack of money and sponsorship than as a reflection of her driving abilities. Obviously, there are currently no women competing in the Sprint Cup series.

One potential bright spot is Jennifer Jo Cobb. Cobb is about to compete through a 4 race deal in the Nationwide series ride previous held by Greg Biffle, who brought the #27 car to 3 top 5s and 7 top 10s in 10 starts. Obviously, Jennifer has an amazing opportunity. This is a proven machine and garage. Respectable finishes will go a long way to bringing a different, more positive focus on women drivers in NASCAR.

Regardless of the outcomes, I’ll be watching with great interest, as I do every weekend.

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