July 3, 2012
By Doug Demmons
Who does Danica Patrick think she is coming into NASCAR and thinking she can stomp around and get her way and wreck another driver on the cooldown lap just because she’s got a big-time sponsor and TV loves her?
No, wait ...
Why are other drivers taking cheap shots at Danica? Are they afraid to lose to a girl? Does she need to get tougher?
She’s a menace. No, she’s a delicate flower.
It’s enough to give you whiplash. One week she’s the “B” word. The next week she’s a damsel in distress.
At Road America she was looking at a potential top 5 finish in the Nationwide race when she was taken out by Jacques Villeneuve. It was a pretty blatant move by a former Formula One champion who ought to know better and it prompted Danica’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., to complain that she’s being mistreated by some of the guys in the field.
This is the same Danica Patrick who was accused by many of getting special treatment when she was not punished for retaliating against her old IndyCar pal, Sam Hornish Jr., by wrecking him on the cooldown lap at the end of the Nationwide race at Talladega.
Danica doesn’t see it as drivers not wanting to lose to a girl. She sees it as progress and the price that comes with running closer to the front than she has previously.
“You move up the grid a little bit further and you start racing with some cars that you haven’t really raced with yet,” she said. “And you need to feel each other out and know how far you can push each other and find the limits. And find the limits of what each other is willing to put up with. I feel like that’s all it is.”
She reminded reporters that she isn’t above delivering payback.
“I’m remembering Phoenix a couple years ago,” she said. “I had been getting pushed around and finally I kind of got the go-ahead from Tony to let somebody have it and I came down the back straight and just absolutely drilled somebody.
“And I don’t really think anybody messed with me for a little while after that. Every now and again you have to stand your ground. It’s no different than anyone else,” she said.
Tony Stewart, who is scheduled to put Danica in a Cup car next year, doesn’t see any problem either.
“I think she is doing just fine,” he said. “She got run over by a guy that runs two Nationwide races a year and has hit everything but the pace car religiously every race. Every time everybody gets around that guy they get wrecked so it doesn’t matter whether it’s her or anybody else.”
Villeneuve certainly didn’t do himself any favors and did nothing to dispel the reputation that he’ll use his bumper to get by. Payback is inevitable, even though he competes only a few times a year.
“Last week was unfortunate,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of Danica’s finish, “because Villeneuve doesn’t have to race her this week or for a while anyways. I told her that she was fast, and she can’t be bothered with Villeneuve too much because that was just kind of ignorant what he did and you’ve got to let that go. Every once in a while somebody is going to get a cheap shot that you’ll never be able to pay back.”
Junior doesn’t think there’s anyone out to get her just because she’s a girl.
“I think some people she either has a history with or some guys don’t respect anybody no matter what their gender,” he said. “Everybody sort of goes through that. You could say Joey Logano went through that a little bit, where he had to sort of put his foot down with guys shoving him around the race track. I probably went through that a little bit in my career at times. Every guy has to stand up for themselves at some point and not just take notice of that individual they are in confrontation with, but really set the tone throughout the entire garage that they won’t put up with it from anybody.
“Me personally when I first started hanging out with her and got to know her even before I raced with her, I knew she wasn’t the kind of person you run around pushing buttons with,” Earnhardt said. “Some guys don’t see it that way I guess and push her around on the race track. She will just have to settle that however she wants. There’s a way to do it. You’ve got to be careful not to put yourself on their level, or make yourself look like an idiot. You just can’t go around pushing people back and spinning people in the wall all the time. You can talk to them people one-on-one or whatever you want to do, however you want to handle it. I think she does a great job. I feel like just being around her in the garage and talking to her as a racer, she doesn’t come across to me as a pushover and I don’t see her that way on the race track.”
Danica is correct that her run-in with Villeneuve actually is a sign of progress. Knocking her out of the way gained him a fourth-place finish. Nobody bothers to turn you when you are running 26th.
She is improving -- slowly but surely. One of these days soon she will be up front on a green-white-checkered restart and then we’ll see who roughs up whom.
Might even be this week at Daytona. Danica is a good plate racer and this weekend might well be her best chance at a win for the rest of the year.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at ALABAMA MOTORSPORTS
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.