Scott Fowler

Danica Patrick destined for a middle-of-the-pack Cup career

Danica Patrick, right, wrecked – again – Thursday night. And she still made Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick, right, wrecked – again – Thursday night. And she still made Sunday’s Daytona 500. Getty Images

Danica Patrick wrecked – again – Thursday night.

And she still made Sunday’s Daytona 500.

It was a very eventful night for Patrick. She seemed to have lost her chance to race in the biggest event on NASCAR’s schedule when she spun out and wrecked late in the race after Denny Hamlin’s car came extremely close to making contact with her.

“Denny wrecked me again,” Patrick said on the radio, referring to a Wednesday wreck she had in practice after another run-in with Hamlin.

Hamlin said on the radio he did not touch her. The two had a public, heated discussion after the race, with Patrick saying later “this isn’t going to end well.”

Still, Patrick came back for the finish and – in a field already depleted by several wrecks – finished 10th in her 150-mile Budweiser Duel to qualify for Sunday.

Don’t let the drama obscure the truth, though: Patrick is not going to win Sunday, because she never does.

The time for people making excuses for Patrick – she doesn’t have the experience, she’s getting closer, she’s had a lot of bad luck – is long past.

The stark truth is that Patrick isn’t good enough to win in NASCAR’s top series. Not only that, she’s often not good enough to run anywhere but in the middle or back of the pack.

Despite Thursday night, Patrick has rarely acquitted herself well in the Sprint Cup Series, where she has been a high-profile, full-time driver the past two years and raced 82 times overall. Her average finish has been 25th.

Not only has she never won in the Cup series, she has never finished in the top five.

She has led roughly one out of every thousand laps that she has run in Cup racing.

She finished 27th in overall points in 2013 and 28th in 2014.

In other words, she’s really not good enough to compete with the big boys. Don’t let the two straight incidents with Hamlin obscure that fact.

If you look at Patrick’s 82 Cup results blindly and didn’t know they were attached to the marketing dynamo that is Danica, you would think that driver wasn’t going to get a third year in Sprint Cup.

Yet Patrick has a third season coming in 2015 with GoDaddy – although she seems to be less involved in the internet domain and Website hosting company’s extensive marketing efforts. GoDaddy has given no indication as to whether it will renew its high-dollar sponsorship of Patrick.

No one else GoDaddy could hire is going to ever make it into a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue like Patrick did, but certainly, GoDaddy could hire a better driver.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against a woman driving in NASCAR. I just would like it to be a more successful one.

Before Patrick ever got into NASCAR full-time, I always wanted her to join the series and stop racing those IndyCars (where she had more success). Like everyone, I was curious as to how she would do.

I relished the idea that she might anger some of NASCAR’s good ol’ boys by winning some of the races they thought she shouldn’t win.

After Patrick’s Daytona 500 pole in 2013 and eighth-place finish in the same race – both impressive, and both generating thunderbolts of publicity – her results have been lame. In almost every race, following the hype and an the inevitably optimistic prerace TV interview on pit road, she is an afterthought.

Patrick seems like a nice person. Her fellow drivers speak well of her. She works hard.

Certainly she has provided something of a publicity boost to NASCAR, although it’s not nearly as big a boost as the organization must have hoped to get.

Can you imagine how big a story it would be if Patrick was good enough to race for an actual series championship? NASCAR would get Billie Jean King/Bobby Riggs sort of coverage for that.

Patrick, 32, can occasionally turn a fast lap, but the statistics don’t lie. She doesn’t win.

And that’s not just against the very best drivers that comprise the Cup series. It’s against the next tier, too. Patrick also has competed in 61 races in NASCAR’s second-tier series, formerly called the Nationwide and now the Xfinity. That’s roughly equivalent to Class AAA baseball, and Patrick has never won there, either.

That’s 0-for-143 overall in the two top series, and in 142 of those races Patrick also finished outside the top five.

Look, if someone like GoDaddy wants to pay Patrick again after this season to run in the middle of the pack, that is ultimately their business.

But buyer beware, for “middle of the pack” is exactly what she’s going to do. At best.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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