The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has had more valleys than peaks for Danica Patrick. It started off great. The pole at the Daytona 500 and finishing 8th in NASCAR’s biggest race but the harsh realities that all rookie drivers face, 2013 is Patrick’s first full season in NSCS, have presented themselves.
Since Daytona, Patrick’s best finish was 12th at the STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Going into this Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway Patrick is 28th in the driver standings, 275 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson. To put it another way: Denny Hamlin has driven in four less races and is ahead of her in the standings.
Due to her popularity the expectations have been very high for Patrick in her rookie season. But the racing community is also aware that she is two-years removed from open wheel racing and ran her first NASCAR race in 2010.
“I think that people have been really understanding of the fact that this is a learning curve and coming from IndyCar is a totally different place,” Patrick said in June 11 report. “I feel like that’s been actually very publicized by you guys (the media), that there is going to be time needed to see that through. It doesn’t stop me from getting mad or wanting more. I think that’s just the nature of someone competitive…”
To Patrick’s progress in NASCAR in perspective one can look at her peers. 2013 is also Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s rookie season. Going into Sunday’s race he is 20th in the NSCS driver standings and his best showing was 11th at Kansas.
Like Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya switched from open wheel racing to NASCAR. Montoya started his open wheel racing career in CART and won the series championship in 1999. From 2001 to 2006 he raced in Formula One and took the checkered flag in seven-races.
He switched to NASCAR full-time in 2007 and has two-career NSCS wins. This season he is 22nd in the driver standings.
Montoya has won races at the highest level and on the biggest stages (Indy 500, Monaco Grand Prix and 24-Hours of Daytona) and his transition to NASCAR has been difficult. Maybe Patrick can find solace in the fact that Montoya is still developing as a NASCAR driver.
“There are a lot of times that my crew chief (Tony Gibson) wants to remind me that I am doing a good job and that this is the first year, not only in Cup, but my second full time in stock cars,” Patrick said. “But I have high expectation levels, so I don’t think it’s a bad quality to have. But it keeps me pushing. But, on the other side, I think you guys (the media) have done a good job of educating maybe the more casual fan that it’s a big transition.”