Before anyone jumps down my throat, this is a question pondered by another media member. Danica Patrick may have only raced in 97 Sprint Cup events and compiled an average finish outside the top 20, but some already believe she’s in the conversation for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Steven Cole Smith of Motorsport.com was that media member. And after looking at the fact that Patrick hasn’t won or clinched a Chase spot during her time with Stewart-Haas Racing, Smith’s got some ‘splainin to do.
While she may not yet have compiled sheer statistics that would send her to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the fact that she has been the first female driver to prove that a woman – particularly a woman that isn’t built like a roller derby jammer – can survive season after season in what has always been, and still is, a man’s sport.
Outside of the fact that it’s an incomplete sentence, it’s a bit of a reach. Patrick has mostly survived at the pinnacle of NASCAR thanks to her marketability and success at the IndyCar level. Sure, she has shown flashes of progress in four seasons, but is still light years behind her teammates with similar equipment.
Of course Smith put her in the “pioneer” category for being the first female driver to run a full season in 2013. She’s carved out a path for females, but the comparison to Wendell Scott was a bit much.
Scott grinded out 147 top 10s and one win in 495 races during his career. He also accomplished all this while building and working on his own cars for NASCAR events. At the Sprint Cup level, Patrick has six top-10 results in 97 races in a far different era.
And for a slot in the Hall of Fame, I contend that’s plenty for a pioneer. I’m not remotely saying that her situation mirrors the struggle that Hall of Famer Wendell Scott faced as the first black driver to make a living in NASCAR, but there are similarities.
Look, I’m not saying that Patrick won’t have a shot in the future if she finds far more success at the NASCAR level. She’s still just 33 years old and has time on her side. But with GoDaddy’s sponsor dollars gone and no guaranteed ride for next year, it’s also possible this might be Patrick’s last NASCAR season.
If she rode off into the sunset after 2015, that’s hardly a Hall of Fame-worthy resume. Reel off a win or two and possibly a few more top fives—she has neither at the Sprint Cup level—and maybe we can talk.
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