Danica Patrick is a good enough race driver that she should be able to qualify for the iconic Daytona 500 without being handled with kid gloves by new Sprint Cup employer Tony Stewart.
It was announced Tuesday that Stewart made a deal with Tommy Baldwin, whose Tommy Baldwin Racing’s car No. 36 (now renumbered 10) driven by Dave Blaney finished 32ndd in points last season and is thus guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races of 2012, for Patrick to drive the car at Daytona.
She doesn’t need the pampering. And if, in fact, she does, then she shouldn’t be driving in Sprint Cup.
Now, we all know that this sort of thing goes on all the time in NASCAR. Deals get made for drivers to have places in major races – and it’s happened in all the other major series too.
But NASCAR, sponsor GoDaddy and Stewart have a lot riding on Patrick. She has to prove she’s not just another pretty face or the wonderful reception she’s received by fans to date will very quickly turn to jeers.
Patrick did well in IndyCar but that didn’t stop the whispers in the paddock that the sanctioning body allowed her to have more horsepower than all the other drivers. And that her one victory was a "fuel- mileage" deal that somehow really didn’t count, her critics conveniently forgetting that many of the IndyCar men who won races over the years also did it because they managed their fuel better than everybody else.
But that doesn’t matter. It’s all perception in today’s world and if she’s to succeed in NASCAR, Stewart and her other handlers would be better off throwing her to the wolves and seeing if she can survive before the whispers about favouritism grow loud in that series too.
The NASCAR drivers, by and large, are a tougher bunch than those who drive in IndyCar. They go almost as fast as the open wheelers but they also trade paint, drive primarily on ovals and it can be a pretty intimidating scene out there. (Note that I said tougher, not braver. There's a difference.)
It really is survvival of the fittest. If Patrick is to survive, she has to give as good as she gets.
Which means qualifying for the dozen or so Sprint Cup races she’s to run this season is essential in order to prove she’s at least as fast as that gang.
Let her do that, and then let her do some bashin’ and crashin’ to prove her mettle in combat, and she’ll continue to be a fan favourite. Paving the way for her before she’s even driven in her first Sprint Cup race will only prove to be counter-productive.
F1 refugee Rubens Barrichello finished two days of testing with KV Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series and said that he’d enjoyed himself and hoped he’d been able to give the team some good feedback.
KV co-owner Jimmy Vasser said it had been a pleasure to have him around for the Sebring test and there was a budget in place to run him if details can be worked out.
There’s the rub, however. The details.
Rubens Barrichello has been a "paid" Formula One driver for 19 years. He was never a driver who had to "bring money." He is used to the F1 lifestyle; he travels around in his own private jet and he’s been able to do that as a result of the millions of dollars he’s been paid to drive cars for Ferrari, Williams and the rest over the years.
A "budget in place" in IndyCar means it won’t cost the driver any money to race the car.
But does KV Racing have several millions of extra dollars lying around to pay Rubens to race their car in order for him to continue living in the style to which he’s become accustomed?
I doubt it, but there’s the rub.
Tony Kanaan, KV’s regular driver and Barrichello’s best pal, has had to bring sponsorship money to continue racing in the series. Rubens will want to be paid to race.
Regardless of their friendship, how long will Kanaan be happy racing on that team when he’ll be writing cheques that may very well just be signed over to Rubens?