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Earnhardt Jr. Speaks The Truth About The Media

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 7 2012

Danica Patrick needs to earn the praise she is being awarded. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as he sat in front of the media during his weekly “hauler chat”, NASCAR driver/team-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. fielded the usual battery of questions about Danica Patrick. It is something that has become pro forma on race weekends.

One of the answers Earnhardt – who is the owner of Patrick’s Nationwide Series car and a semi-teammate of her in Cup – issued was not.

When Earnhardt was told that Tony Stewart – who owns Patrick’s Hendrick-built Sprint Cup car – said that he thought the media should back off of Patrick because she is being subject to too much pressure, Earnhardt said:

“I think you guys have for the most part handled her with kid gloves. I didn’t think that the media has been that tough.”

Earnhardt is one of the more astute drivers in the series. He’s not a ranter. He is low-key adept at analyzing his sport and his surroundings. He generally thinks before he talks and when he does talk, he is refreshingly unconcerned about the political implications of his words.

He is correct in his assessment of the way some of the media has treated Patrick.

So, OK, off come the kid gloves.

First, vis a vis the Nationwide Series wreck she was involved in at Atlanta: Despite what her apologists said on television, Danica was at primary fault in the wreck. As Rusty Wallace, an analyst at ESPN said earlier this year during a similar incident involving other drivers; there are three pedals in Cup cars.

Patrick could have avoided the contact had she lifted her foot a bit off the pedal on the right, or tapped the middle pedal. Or, she could have used the high line which was left open to her.

It was a racing incident. One over which Patrick should not have been torn into, but also one which should have prompted faulty, biased analysis. The type of analysis which has accompanied her and her ratings-boosting potential into the series.

See, fans have got to know this: This is not a newbee to racing and it is time she is weened off of the praise-only treatment.

She is a 30-year-old professional driver who has been in NASCAR for three years. She has 49 races in Nationwide and four in Cup. Patrick spent seven years in the hugely competitive IndyCar Series. She started 115 races over there. Before that she raced formula cars in Europe.

In NASCAR, one could argue, she is underachieving. Cole Whitt, her teammate at JR Motorsports, has learned the ways of NASCAR more quickly.

She has led a fairly pampered existance in racing. Especially in NASCAR. Her teams have had the luxury of bringing her along slow and steady. Her team owners and crew chiefs have, reportedly, told Patrick to not worry about winning or even placing well. Just go out and take laps.

That is a luxury that few other drivers have. Whitt, James Buescher (who was wrecked by Patrick at Atlanta) and dozens of other NASCAR hopefuls are on the tracks driving for their very careers every weekend. The learning process for them in this era of one-year plans, is long over. It’s produce or good-bye NASCAR, hello ARCA.

The Dillon brothers – Ty and Austin – are in a similar situation. Their grandfather owns their team and has guaranteed their futures. He has put them in great equipment and surrounded them with top people in the garages. The Dillons also have the luxury of relative job security.

The differences is, they have produced. Wins and top-fives and top-10s. Austin Dillon has 35 Nationwide starts. In that time, he has a victory and 14 top-five finishes. Younger Brother Ty has a victory and four top-fives in 17 career truck series starts. His average finish in two Nationwide starts this year is 5.5.

Patrick, by far the wealthiest driver in the Nationwide Series, has just one top-five finish.

And this is all OK. It’s racing. Some drivers learn faster than others. Sometimes – very often, in fact – poor numbers can be the result of factors outside of drivers’ control. Poor pit stops, failed mechanicals, boneheaded moves by others on the track, a shoe on the track.

Patrick may yet come on to have a very solid – perhaps spectacular – career in NASCAR. The belief here is that she will win races, at the very least, along the way. A Chase berth is not out of the question in the future. Patrick is not a stiff.

And, her temper tantrums and proclivity to point fingers (literally in the case of the race at Bristol), while annoying, are well within the bounds of acceptability.

No, the problem here is more with the way she is being perceived and treated by many in the media and the grandstands.

With TV leading the charge, the media gushes over every little positive step she takes (“Oh look, did you see that? Danica put her own helmet on and all by herself. Incredible.”) and makes excuses for every screwup she makes (“That other guy should be parked for slamming the front of her car with his rear bumper. “)

A actual paraphrase from Saturday’s NNS race: Danica is running a “respectable” 16th. For every other driver on the track, 16th-place finishes get you a one-way ticket back to DuQuoin or Slinger.

A lot of us in the media would love to see Patrick achieve the successful-star status that others of us have already bestowed upon her. A Patrick winning races would be good for the sport and, hence, us.

But we should not want that at the expense of credibility. And nobody we are trying to reach is falling for it: NASCAR fans are pretty dang astute.

Let’s compliment her when its due. Let’s critique when its appropriate.

The guess here is that Patrick as no problem with that. Certainly Earnhardt doesn’t.

“She understands the situation she’s in,” he said at Atlanta. “It’s an interesting compelling story especially the closer she gets to going into the Cup series and everybody anticipating that entire process. I’m not at all surprised by any of it (the attention she receives) and I don’t think she is either. I don’t think she’s bothered by it either. I think that she understands the situation and she is a real professional about it.”

Yes. What he said.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, September 7 2012
11 Comments

11 Comments »

  • Jorge says:

    If preserving her car is an objective – she fails at that too often with 12 wrecks.

    Philip, not sure wy you’d ride wih Dwrafica but I supopose it does give you a good view of ither cars rear ends. Still, get out of the dwarf’s car and follow someone else – you’ll see they’re all “aggressive”. You might also see how competent drivers manage to stay on the track and even win.

  • Rita Jean says:

    The headline fooled me since didn’t know I was about to read another piece about Danica. That was unfortunate. Anyways, the piece itself seems to do the very same thing its content says the media is doing: treating her racing kid gloves. The piece doesn’t reveal anything new or honest about her racing (which we know is not very good). Racers don’t accept excuses. They say that in interviews, but they don’t and shouldn’t. You are the driver. It’s on you. She can wag her finger at whoever she wants, the number of DNF’s & crashes in NNS speak for itself, as the author points out. “Houston, we have a problem.” She’s not a rookie anymore. The tv commentators need to stop steering us to that belief. Thanks, Pedley, we ARE smarter, we DO know better. Since ESPN carries the races, we already know where that part of the problem lies. I believe the average fan just tunes it out now, which is exactly what her marketing department does NOT want us to do.

  • David Williams says:

    I do agree with Richard Moore that to move her to Cup at this stage of her development is a mistake and does her a disservice. She came into Nationwide at the beginning of this year believing that she would be competitive enough “to contend for the championship.” This season has surely lowered her estimation of her own ability — even in Nationwide — to more realistic levels and has also surely battered and bruised her own morale — one can take only so many blows before they begin to have a permanent effect. To put her into Cup full time next year will, in my estimation, do serious damage to her confidence and to her career. She has been brought along so fast because her success in Indycar led her to overestimate her developmental level as it related to stock cars, thus making her susceptible to NASCAR’s eagerness to capitalize on her national fame for a quick increase in ticket sales and television money. All very understandable on everybody’s part, but not, in my opinion, sufficiently in line with reality to be a healthy move on her part.

    • Jorge says:

      Does her a “disservice”? Hardly – it keeps her in the spotlight and supports her marketing career. She has not been brought along “so fast.” This is her 3rd year of at least part-time NASCAR and sh’s been asked only to show up on the track with no expectation of being competitive. She is clearly not advancing in NASCAR and whether she’s moved up now or in a year – she still be a solid 20+ finsher an frequent wrecker.

  • Richard Moore says:

    People she’s done well at times and she’s done horriable at times, I think the question right now is has she earned her advance to cup?
    I say as of right now at her very best she will be a back marker at most tracks in cup, I say this in her best intrest, remember all the drives that were the next best thing almost all failed and I would like her and Joanna do well, win races in Nation and advance from being winning drivers than stepping up to cup.
    I know she has folks that like her and dislike her she would have no diffrent if she stayed, learned the craft of stock car racing than came up but it’s my belief if she comes up now and finishes most races a lap down it will burn her and her fan base.
    Yes I think shes over rated now but we have seen other drivers that were in her shoes that stuck with it in the lower class and made it up to cup and do great things, I just don’t remember all that many that came up this fast with few lead lap finishes and no wins that are still around in the top25.
    I mean no disrespect to her and her other racing accomplishments but there are very few Tony stewards that can cross racing classes With the speed he did or Kasey Kane for that matter

    • Jorge says:

      Please tell us about all the times she’s “done well.” Drop the poltically correct doublespeak. She does not deserve a Sprint ride – and it’s arguable that she deserves Nationwide.

  • MR RIGHT says:

    Everyone who says Buscher came up to Dankia is drinking the kool-aid. If you watch the replay with them coming straight at the camera, you can see Danica gets loose coming off and goes down about 1/4 of a lane(yes going away from the wall). If you watch from the in car, and follow either the blacktop seams or the wall you see Buscher held his line right on the seam until Danica comes down on corner exit and turns him. Then she turns the 44 shortly after.
    She did the same thing at Daytona, instead of using the middle pedal, she goes flying into the trouble and turns into Reagan(34) instead of slowing down, then swerving around the 48(JJ)

  • David Williams says:

    And as for her being brought along “slow and steady,” I believe this needs to be emphasized: It has been said that stock car racing and open wheel racing require such different skill sets they might as well be different sports. Almost every stock car racer developed in midgets and super midgets and late models and the like, beginning as youngsters in the privacy of obscurity, racing on dirt tracks, learning to drive a loose race car and to “bump and run” (a practice that in IndyCar might put you in the morgue). Patrick developed in open wheel cars (Formula 3000, Toyota Atlantics), for most of her development on road courses, and is learning her craft in the open glare of the TV cameras and the intense scrutiny of NASCAR drivers and fans, many of whom are, in the print media, openly and repeatedly hostile to her. She deserves the lengthy learning period in this kind of racing that the others had as they were coming up in this kind of racing. That she is doing as well as she is under such pressure is remarkable.

  • David Williams says:

    My astonishment at your claim that Patrick should have lifted was so great it drove me to post a comment before even reading any further. Had I done so, I would have encountered another claim at odds with reality: that she could have used the highline, “which was open to her.” The woman was up against the wall, for God’s sake.

  • David Williams says:

    Interesting you should claim Patrick should have lifted to avoid the wreck at Atlanta. At the Road America race the announcers drew attention to Tony Eury, Jr. saying that other drivers “lean on her,” that “they know she won’t fight back,” she won’t, in other words, defend her position. That was clearly what Buescher was counting on as he tried to force his way into her lane at Atlanta. He figured that, true to form, Patrick would lift and give him the spot that by all the rules of racing was already hers. Unfortunately for Buescher, Patrick is learning. She held her line, which was her right by all the rules and, trying to cross her bow, Buescher caused a wreck. It is disingenuous, if not dishonest, to claim otherwise.

  • PhilipJames says:

    I disagree with your comment that she should have lifted or backed off to let Buescher in… she had that lane at the top and Buesher got pushed up by a car below him and he moved over and got hooked by her.
    The reason I disagree she should have lifted is this… she had the position and my big complaint with her is that she normally backs off to avoid problems and loses positions all the time and the guys know that and that is what Tony talks about when he talks about the guys taking advantage of her. Her normal reaction has always been to back off and preserve her car… she did it in IndyCar and that is why she has the record for finishing consecutive races over there.
    I’m glad she wrecked Buescher… it sends a message more than anything… that she is not always going to back off and let you in if you push the issue… face it, did Dillon do that to her when he turned her in a race and complained she was in his way? when it was part way thru the race and not the final laps?
    I watch the races and do the RaceBuddy thing all the time from in her car and I see how the guys are aggressive and do little things to her during the race and she doesn’t get nasty with them.. she has let them do it and she has not done the same to them. I see when she is faster than someone and patiently tries to get past instead of tapping them or coming up on them to force them wide… something the guys do to her all the time.
    So, I’m glad she did that to Buesher… its about time… she had the run, he came up and tried to cut in front of her and instead of doing what she always does, she kept going and in case you didn’t notice, she finished higher than she was at that time. Good for her. Time for her to do the little tricks the guys do as well.