DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Well folks, I and the entire NASCAR on FOX team are down here in Daytona for the 2010 Speedweeks. Last Saturday saw the running of one of the most hyped racing events in recent years -- Danica Patrick debuting in a stock car.
From the very beginning there have been the naysayers. Those were the folks that said it was nothing more than a glorified publicity stunt. There were those that had already made up their mind that she was going to fail. Some even said it was all about money.
Was I skeptical? You bet. I never said she couldn't drive a stock car but I went on record saying it was going to be difficult for her. What you saw last Saturday in the ARCA race was the "best case" scenario being played out. She had great equipment from JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports. She had veteran leadership in Tony Eury Jr. It doesn't matter to me if it is the first or the last race of your career, as a driver, that's the best situation you could ever hope for.
So she put herself in a very good position to show everyone what kind of talent she has. She got herself into the race by qualifying 12th. For the most part, she stayed out of trouble other than being sent for a ride through the grass.
Now for the Speed broadcast we had an in-car camera. The way she handled the steering wheel in that car when she went for her wild ride through the grass amazed me. It's not so much that she saved the car, but its how she did it that impressed me. It was fascinating to see how fast her hands moved on that wheel. To take it a step further, there was a couple times where she basically let go of the wheel.
See, that's how they teach you to handle something like that in IndyCar because with the steering in those cars, it will snap your wrists. I just didn't expect it in a stock car but sure enough, there she was letting go of the steering wheel. Folks, I was blown away she did that but hey, it worked. She saved the car and got herself back into the race.
Listening to her in practice and during the race on the radio was also very impressive to me. She was very calm. She asked very good questions and also gave the team great feedback. So it was clear to me how intelligent she was. When the race started she maintained her composure. For the most part she stayed in line and rode right at the bottom of the race track hugging the yellow line.
It impressed me that she wasn't just out there because she could be. She was out there because she is good. She was tenacious. She didn't quit. Sure, it would have been easy after getting booted down into the grass to give up. She didn't. She fought back. She came up from the back of the pack and got a great finish.
Overall, I easily give her an "A" for her first-ever stock car race. Now however, she is getting to jump into the deep end of the pool. She and the team have decided to go ahead and enter Saturday's Nationwide race here in Daytona. This Saturday is going to be a much bigger challenge than last Saturday was.
The competition will be on another level than what she faced in the ARCA race. There will be more competitive cars and more competitive veteran drivers to compete against. Last Saturday was just a warm-up. This Saturday will be a very good measuring stick for how good she can be in a stock car.
She will once again have a very good team around her and Tony Eury Jr. still calling the shots. That's a positive. She has to go into the Nationwide race exactly like she did with the ARCA race. She has nothing to prove and she just needs seat time and to make laps. See, that's the main thing she needs to do. She needs to run all the laps and finish the race.
I just think overall it was a great start for Danica. The team gave her the best of everything and she seized the opportunity to show everyone how good she really is. In my mind, she didn't disappoint anybody. I am excited to see how she handles things this Saturday because the degree of difficulty is going to go way way up.
OH BY THE WAY: Congratulations to Kevin Harvick on winning his second straight Bud Shootout. It is good to see Richard Childress Racing coming out of the 2010 box so strong. I really look for great things out of the RCR camp this year.
Now we have the 150s coming up Thursday afternoon on Speed and they will set the field for the 52nd running of the Daytona 500 on Valentine's Day, no less!
OH BY THE WAY II: I spent some time with Tony Stewart and I have to say I am impressed with what they are doing. Last year they had a pit crew member get hurt, but they really didn't have any depth on the bench, to use a basketball analogy.
So what Tony has instituted this year is a third pit crew. It will be like a "ready reserve" that can plug any possible holes that might need filling on either Tony's team or Ryan Newman's team. I think it will pay good dividends for them down the road. Tony continues to impress me not only behind the wheel but also as a car owner.
OH BY THE WAY III: I also was able last week to spend time with Mark Martin. Now remember, I have known Mark since he was 18 years old. I don't believe I have ever seen him so pumped up and confident as I did last week. He is so ready to get this season under way. He sure got off to a great start when he won the pole position for the Daytona 500 Sunday. It's just so impressive to see him accomplish the things he is doing at 51 years old. I am so very proud of what Mark is doing at this point in his life and career.