In a blink of any eye, Danica Patrick publicly went from denying claims she would drive in NASCAR for Tony Stewart to strapping herself into her #7 GoDaddy.com Nationwide car owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr to compete in Saturday’s race at Daytona. And almost as fast, Danica found herself squeezing back out of what, at one time, was her neon green race car back in the garage after getting caught in one of Daytona’s famous multi-car wrecks.
A week after finishing 6th in her stock car debut in the ARCA series, Danica was thrown into the fire competing against a field half-filled with inexperienced talent trying to earn their way into a full-time Sprint Cup ride, while the other half comprised Sprint Cup regulars using the Nationwide race to get a few extra laps in before the Super Bowl of NASCAR, the Daytona 500.
How is she supposed to develop properly and be fairly judged as a stock car racer when she is put in a firestorm like that? She hasn’t been in a stock car long enough to be able to pilot her car with the likes of seasoned Sprint Cup vets, much less while trying to dodge inexperienced drivers sprinkled throughout the field.
Tony Stewart won the Nationwide race on Saturday which featured Sprint Cup stars claiming 7 of the top 10 spots.
The debate has raged for years about the whether or not Sprint Cup stars should be allowed to race in Nationwide races just for extra practice. And Danica just may be the spark that might finally ignite action.
NASCAR should limit the opportunities afforded to full-time Sprint Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series and use the junior circuit more as a form of minor league feeder for the Sprint Cup. This benefits the Nationwide Series and its driver’s in many ways.
First and foremost, it gives the drivers a dedicated venue to compete against other top developmental talent without being gunned down by the ringers from the Sprint Cup. It allows the drivers a more fair comparison versus the other drivers. Plus it opens up the field to more developing talent. Instead of fielding a third to half of the lineup from the Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series would be able to field 40+ drivers unique to the series. This allows the Nationwide Series to market them without infringing on the Sprint Cup, it allows them to create their own identity, and it gives more drivers a chance to make a name for themselves. The series currently has two of the best rising female racers in the country with Danica and Chrissy Wallace, and could capitalize on their development if the Sprint Cup drivers weren’t bogging down the field.
The structure could work its way progressively down to the regional series which eventually feed into the ARCA series, where the drivers can be promoted up to the Nationwide Series, then eventually the Sprint Cup. Anyone with a full-time contract in a higher series would not be able to race more than 5 races in a lesser series. For example, Tony Stewart would be limited to race in only 5 Nationwide Series races per year. Whereas someone like Mike Bliss, who may not have a full-time contract with a team but occasionally drives in the Sprint Cup, would be able to compete a full season in the Nationwide.
The Craftsman Truck Series in not affected by the modification. The truck series is racing at its purest. The trucks are no advantage to stock car drivers. The truck series in the way racing used to be; beating, banging and skilled driving. Racers in the truck series are the true racers in the sport, not the poster boys, pitch men and merchandise salesman of the Sprint Cup. Anyone who wants to prove their mettle as a racer is more than welcome to climb into a truck series ride. Even Chrissy Wallace has proven she can handle the racing in a truck race.
If Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick need more practice in order to compete on Sundays, then they should petition NASCAR for more practice time. Jeff Gordon doesn’t run on Saturdays, Jimmy Johnson rarely runs on Saturdays, and they are the two drivers with the most championships in the bunch.
Mr Pressbox Out!!