All eyes will be on Danica Patrick later today when she makes her first stock car start in the ARCA race at Daytona (Speed TV, 4:30 p.m. EST).
She qualified 12th out of 43 starters. Notable names ahead of her – Nelson Piquet Jr. will start seventh and rising Canadian star Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont., is just ahead of her in eleventh. Notable names behind – ex-supercross champion Ricky Carmichael in 14th and Milka Duno in 41st.
I happen to think Danica will do just fine but there are gazillions of people out there who are convinced she’ll fail and if that happens the inevitable discussion about open-wheel drivers trying to drive stock cars will follow.
That gobs of ex-open wheel drivers are stars in NASCAR seems to have escaped people. Where do they think Jeff Gordon came from? Tony Stewart (hell, he was an Indy car champion before he went to NASCAR), Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are others and the list could be longer.
Even today’s ARCA field has other open-wheelers in it besides Patrick and Duno. Dakoda Armstrong, for example, is out of the sprints and midgets and is starting fourth today. Many of you won’t recognize his name now but I guarantee that you will before he’s through.
In any event, I resent the one-sidedness of this whole argument. Yes, some pretty good open-wheel people have had difficulty making the adjustment to stock cars. Dario Franchitti just couldn’t do it, that’s true. But the rest of them acquitted themselves pretty well, in my books (okay, they didn’t win races but when was the last time Dale Jr. was in Victory Lane?)
My point – yes, there’s one coming – is that we’ve never had an example of anyone going the other way. We’ve never (in recent years, anyway) had a stock car racer of the first rank switch over and try to drive open-wheel cars.
The news today is that – although I can’t name the driver and I can’t name the series and I can’t name the team – is that one of the stars of NASCAR (hint: he’ll be one of the 24 racing in the Budweiser Shootout, a.k.a. Bud Crashfest, at Daytona tonight – FOX, TSN2 at 8 p.m.) is negotiating with an open-wheel team to drive in a race sometime this season.
The deal is in the early stages, but the driver has told the team owner that he’s always thought about doing it and the only condition is that it would have to be at a track he’s familiar with so he could just pretty much jump in the car and get out there.
Back in the glory days of auto racing – the 1960s – when Formula One stars would do the Indy 500 (Clark, Hill, Stewart, Rindt) and Indy stars would try F1 (Andretti – who did pretty well for himself, didn’t he? – was an example), some of NASCAR’s finest would periodically race in open wheel.
Bobby and Donny Allison ran the Indy 500. So did Lee Roy Yarbrough. Cale Yarborough dropped out of NASCAR for a year (although he did run a few of the bigger races) to run a season on the USAC (Indy car) championship trail.
Sponsored by Gene White Firestone of Atlanta, it was quite something to see Yarborough and his team fly Confederate flags over their pit at places like Michigan International and Indianapolis.
I’ll keep you posted on when that deal with the NASCAR star comes together with the open wheel team. If it happens, it will be terrific because it will open up a whole new side to the open-wheel-stock-car controversy.