It’s a sight all too familiar to Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing, and fans alike. A wrecked No. 10 Chevrolet, and a disappointed Danica walking towards an ambulance to be taken to the infield care center for evaluation.
I want to see Danica succeed. She has been an immensely large part of bringing the female fan base back into NASCAR. Young girls look up to Danica – with her “Girls can do anything” mentality. But her time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been lackluster.
When Danica first entered into NASCAR competition, many believed it was just a publicity stunt with sponsor GoDaddy – who Danica has served as a huge part of from a marketing side for the website hosting service. Danica drove six seasons in the Verizon Indycar Series, only finding victory lane once in 2008 at Twin Ring Motegi Superspeedway in Japan.
Danica entered Cup Series competition in 2012 when she joined Stewart-Haas Racing, for 10 races including the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500. As expected being her first time in a Premier Series car, it was not going to be a cake walk for the former IndyCar Series driver. She failed to finish two races due to crashes, and one of those times was a failed attempt to deliberately wreck another driver due to previous on-track contact. She only posted one top-20 finish in 2012, and even for that finish at Phoenix, Danica limped across the finish line with a No. 10 Chevrolet leaking oil and smoking, and causing an even bigger wreck behind her.
The 2013 season started on a very high, and unexpected note for Danica – claiming her first career pole, and becoming the first female driver in NASCAR history to lead the field to the green flag at the Daytona 500. Danica led 5 laps, and recorded an 8th place finish – her best
finish in NASCAR so far at the time. However this would be her only bright spot of the 2013 season for Danica. The following week at Phoenix, she would crash out, finishing 39th. While she had a strong 12th place finish at Martinsville just a few weeks later, Danica would spend time around the mid-to-rear 20’s and the mid-30’s including a dead-last finish of 43rd at Kansas late in the season. Danica did make it into NASCAR’s All-Star night, but relied on the fan vote to lock herself in. Starting in the 22nd position, she would record a 20th place finish in a field of just 22 cars. She would break into the top-20 in points just one time in the 2013 season, finishing 27th in points for the season.
Give the benefit of the doubt – its her first season after all. NASCAR is no easy sport to just jump right into and find success. But drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, who won three times in his rookie season, prove otherwise.
Statistically, her 2014 season has been her best season on record yet. After finishing 37th in the Daytona 500 due to a crash, her race did feature a bright spot, leading laps again in the Great American Race for the second straight year. She showed early season hopes when she record finishes of 21st, 18th, and 14th respectively at Vegas, Bristol, and Fontana. Fast forward to Talladega, and Danica would once again lead laps on a super speedway track, which is often referred to as a “great equalizer” in the sport, where ANY driver can win there. She would led six laps, on her way to a 22nd place finish. Danica would turn heads the following week at Kansas, where she would record a seventh place finish, her best finish yet, and on a non-restrictor plate track. While she did record 4 DNF’s, you could tell by her driving and her communications with her team, that she was learning and improving. She would continue to post great numbers for a 2nd year driver, including multiple top 20’s, an eighth place finish at Daytona, and sixth at Atlanta. She would conclude the 2014 season with three top-1o finishes, an average starting position of 22.3 and an average finish of 23.7. She concluded the season finishing 28th in the points.
Jumping to 2015, Danica now has two full seasons of Sprint Cup competition under her belt. She would also begin working with a new crew chief, Daniel Knost, who stepped over
from the No. 41 team in a crew chief swap with Danica’s then crew chief, Tony Gibson. With long-time partner GoDaddy announcing their departure from Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick felt more motivated to give the web-hosting service the attention they deserve on the race track. She would kick off the 2015 season with more consistency and more results. She would record two top-10’s in 3 races at Martinsville and at Fontana. Danica’s 7th place finish at Martinsville caught the attention of one of her sponsors, TaxACT, and the tax firm would come on board for an additional race spontaneously thanks to her impressive finish at the historic short track. Leaving Martinsville, she would be in Chase contention for the first time in her career, which caught the attention of fans and drivers alike. She would continue to post top-20’s and top-15’s until the mid-season race at Daytona where she would record her first DNF. The fact that she finished every race until the 18th of the season was impressive. While she did record another season of four DNF’s, she kept her noise clean throughout the first half of the season, which began to make fans question if this was a new side of the popular driver they’ve never seen before. She concluded the season with her best points finish yet – 24th, and recorded four DNF’s and 2 top-10 finishes. She would finish the season with an average start of 22.4 and an average finish of 23.5.
2016 brought a new look to the No. 10 Chevrolet team. Danica’s Chevrolet would adorn a new sponsor with Nature’s Bakery for a whopping 28 races, with TaxACT and Aspen Dental covering the rest of the season. The 2016 season would get off to a rough
start for Danica, posting two DNF’s in the first five races of the season at Daytona and at Fontana. Her numbers remained in the top-20’s with an occasional top-15 finish sprinkled throughout. Danica would post a 13th place finish at Dover in the spring, and an 11th place finish at Charlotte in the fall. Statically however, the 2016 season was a seesaw season. She failed to post a single top-10 finish, recorded three DNF’s, but she led more laps in this season then 2013-2015 combined. She would also complete 98.1% of the total laps throughout the season. While her average start did drop to 25.1, her average finish climbed to 22.0. She would finish the season 24th in points, which has been her comfort area in the past couple seasons of competition.
2017 is a fresh beginning for Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing, but it comes with some surprising news. Nature’s Bakery, who agreed to sponsor Danica in 28 races per year throughout 2018, terminated their contract in January with SHR. The organization would sue the Nevada-based snack company for failure to make payments on their contract deal. Nature’s Bakery would countersue, claiming that SHR could not control Danica’s social media posts where she would allegedly endorse competitors of Nature’s Bakery. While the court case remains on going, Danica is now left with 28 races unsponsored for 2017. Aspen Dental has expanded their partnership to a “double-digit” amount of races, but a lot of races remain left open for Danica. HAAS Automation, which is the company founded by team owner Gene Haas, is expected to help cover the races, as well as Ford Motor Company. Both Ford and SHR are dedicated to running four cars full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR CUP Series, and one full-time entry in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
Danica did start the 2017 season on a high note. She would finish fourth in “The Clash”, an exhibition race for pole sitters during the 2016 season, and she would start 12th in her sixth Daytona 500. While she would crash out early due to a multi-car pileup, Danica showed great speed and great patience during the Daytona 500, not making the same mistakes she made in her first few years on the Cup circuit.
So what’s the future look like for Danica? She is believed to be signed through 2018 with Stewart-Haas Racing, as well as her Aspen Dental, TaxACT, and Code3 Associates. Personally, I believe now is the time to showcase what she has got as a driver. Dont get me wrong, I really want to see Danica succeed. She has been a fantastic role model for young girls who are fans of the sport, or who just want to get involved in the sport as a driver or pit crew member. Personally, I would love to see Danica get some more XFINITY Series time with SHR now running a full-time program, including a part-time entry with the No. 41 Ford Mustang. If Danica wishes to stay in NASCAR and with a top-team such as SHR, the results must show. Too many younger, hungier drivers are climbing the ranks rapidly. If she wants to occupy the No.10 Ford for years to come, its do or die.
Statistics credit: Racing Reference