Following Danica Patrick: NASCAR Nationwide & Cup Series Update
By: Farrah Kaye
With another off weekend for the NASCAR Nationwide Series, we thought it would be beneficial to hit a few key topics from the season up until now. Below are the hottest topics around the garage.
How is Danica Patrick Doing?
Let’s take a look at this statistically: She has been in six races, has one top-10 finish, earned one pole, led two laps, is 12th in points, has an average start of 18th, average finish of 22.2 and has had two lead lap finishes. She has only completed 88% of the laps raced (1,030 of 1,170) and had one DNF (Fontana).
Those aren’t exactly the stats Patrick wanted for herself. She has always said she wants to be in the top 15, which she has done only twice (12th at Vegas and eighth at Texas). The next race is at Richmond, where she finished 18th in 2011.
On the Cup side, she might have to worry when she takes over the shared No. 10 ride at Darlington in a few weeks. After this weekend’s Cup race in Kansas, the No. 10 Patrick shares with David Reutimann currently sits 34th in owner points, cushioned by only 19 points. There is always the internal car number swap, but the No. 26 of Dave Blaney is only one position ahead by two points.
Kenny Wallace Out, Travis Pastrana In
When the season started, Kenny Wallace knew he had to get sponsorship dollars or his time in the No. 09 RAB Toyota would be over – as would his career. He was guaranteed the first five races of the season, with or without sponsorship, thanks to the top-30 rule. After the first five, everything was up in the air, except for Talladega, as he already had a sponsor for the race. Ryan Truex and his Grime Boss sponsorship piloted the machine in Texas and were looking in to more races when news broke of an MWR/RAB alliance that would bring Travis Pastrana and his built-in sponsorship with him.
Pastrana, who is finally making his NASCAR Nationwide debut, not only will change the car number to No. 99, but will also bring his own crew chief Mike Greci, who will co-crew chief with Scott Zipadelli for the limited schedule: Richmond, Darlington, Charlotte, New Hampshire, Chicago, Indianapolis and Atlanta. Truex heads to Joe Gibbs Racing to continue his season there.
Where Are the Rookies?
Although only two names stand out on the Rookie of the Year roster – Austin Dillon and Cole Whitt – there are actually five drivers vying for the award. Jason Bowles, Benny Gordon and Johanna Long join Dillon and Whitt in the fight for the Rookie honors.
After Texas, Dillion (third in points) leads Whitt (sixth in points), with Bowles, Gordon and Long in 15th, 16th and 23rd, respectively. Long has missed two races this season.
Sadler vs. Stenhouse
In 2011, Elliott Sadler was chosen by many to win the championship. While he put up a good fight, the honors ultimately went to 2010 Rookie of the Year Ricky Stenhouse Jr. But 2012 is a completely different story. Whether it’s the acquisition of KHI by RCR, a new fight in his second full year as a Cup-turned-Nationwide driver or redemption, Sadler is truly the comeback king. He is currently ranked first in points, with two wins, four top-fives, five top-10s and a pole.
On the other end is the series’ defending champion, Stenhouse, who is just four points behind Sadler. His statistics are nearly identical to Sadler’s. He has two wins, four top-fives, five top-10s but no pole. These two are definitely going to fight it out to the very end.
Cup Driver Shutout
For years, Cup drivers did double duty, taking home most of the wins, even championships. But with the “check a box” rule put into play last year, the series has seen less and less double-duty drivers. KHI shut down, Kyle Busch formed his own Nationwide team (meaning he doesn’t have the superb JGR equipment) and, well – simply put, the Nationwide “regulars” are maturing and spent so much time learning from the Cup drivers, they are shutting them out.
In the first six races of the season, only one Cup driver has taken a win. Joey Logano kept JGR’s win-streak alive at Auto Club Speedway. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, the only other two Cup drivers in the field, were third and eighth. In Texas, a rare Dale Earnhardt Jr. appearance put even more eyes on the series. But even Earnhardt Jr. didn’t make Stenhouse flinch. In fact Earnhardt Jr. didn’t even lead a lap during the race.
Next up, the series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 on Friday, April 27 at 7 p.m. ET.
Farrah Kaye is a NASCAR columnist for CBS Local Digital Media and is a member of the NMPA. Her previous articles have appeared on SPEEDtv.com, newsweek.com and she holds a degree in Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Farrah_Kaye.