By RICH FOLEY
I hope Danica Patrick isn’t taking her current situation in NASCAR for granted. She’s been extremely fortunate to have a full-time, mega-dollar sponsor in the Nationwide Series, with the same company putting up the cash for a partial Sprint Cup schedule. But if she doesn’t start showing better results soon, an upcoming group of younger women are poised to pass her by.
It’s true that Patrick won the pole at the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona, but she has shown little since to indicate she’s ready to move up to the Sprint Cup Series full time. Her performance in the most recent Nationwide race at Dover was typical.
Patrick finished in 30th position, placing her behind, among others, 70-year-old Morgan Shepherd, who was making one of his sporadic starts in his low budget self-owned car. The result dropped Patrick out of the top-10 in season points, in a series where only 16 drivers have run the whole schedule.
In fact, that’s where her biggest competitor, female-wise, enters the picture. Johanna Long, who turned 20 years old just two weeks ago, runs a partial schedule due to monetary restrictions.
Despite missing a third of this season’s races so far, Long is still ranked 19th in points, within spitting distance of Patrick. The young driver is starting to gain a following of young female fans who previously had only Patrick as a role model.
Long has been racing since she was eight years old and has picked up an impressive group of trophies at lower levels. More than ten years younger than Patrick, you have to wonder what Long would do with a bit more experience and a big-money sponsor like Danica’s GoDaddy.com backing her for an entire season.
And she’s not the only female on the horizon. Annabeth Barnes, just 16 years old, is competing successfully at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway, one of NASCAR’s most famous short tracks.
Barnes has already starred in a documentary as well as a cable reality show on the Great American Country channel. She’ll be a driver to keep an eye on in the future.
Another woman nearing the end of her window to move up the racing ladder in Jennifer Jo Cobb. The 38-year-old has struggled for years with low-budget teams in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series.
A recent article in NASCAR Illustrated quoted Cobb as saying her budget is a relatively tiny $300,000 for the year, but she’s still finishing in the top-20. “Give us $3 million and we’ll run up front with the rest of the guys,” she added.
The biggest threat to Danica Patrick, at least from a sponsorship standpoint, may come from Angela and Amber Cope. The identical twin sisters are the nieces of 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope, who is helping their career along as his own is winding down.
Angela and Amber have made starts in ARCA, NASCAR Trucks and the Nationwide Series. The Cope sisters took a page out of the Danica Patrick playbook earlier this year and posed for Maxim magazine. As with Danica years ago, it surely gained the Copes a following among 14-year-old boys.
And that might ultimately cause Danica problems with her sponsor. It’s almost impossible to turn on a televised sporting event and not see a suggestive GoDaddy ad with Danica and a scantily-clad model or two. How about a switch?
By sponsoring the Cope sisters, GoDaddy would have two beautiful, blond, identical twin race drivers. Just think what fun their marketing department would have with that.
Better stand on that gas pedal, Danica. There’s a fast-moving group of women right behind you.
RECORDS FALLING: By RICH FOLEY
Observer Motorsports Writer
Some of NASCAR’s longest standing records are in danger of falling as today’s drivers continue to gain ground on some of the all-time greats of the sport.
Jeff Gordon won a pole position earlier this season, making it the 20th consecutive year he has won at least one pole. That ties the record held by David Pearson since 1982. Ryan Newman has an 11-year pole winning streak entering 2012, second longest among active drivers.
Gordon and Bobby Labonte continue to climb the most consecutive starts list. Gordon is up to third place with 666 starts as of June 9 and Labonte just one behind in fourth.
Both drivers should pass Rusty Wallace, currently second with 697 consecutive starts, early in 2013. Ricky Rudd, leader at 788, will hold his record at least until 2015.
Richard Petty’s record of 18 consecutive years with a win is safe at least until 2017. Tony Stewart, is the active leader with 14 consecutive winning seasons, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 11 straight.
Petty’s record of 200 Cup wins will probably stand for all time. Jeff Gordon is the active leader entering 2012 with 85 wins. He is unlikely to pass second-place David Pearson with 105 wins, much less making a charge at Petty’s mark. But NASCAR has found a way to shake up the record books.
To help promote the Nationwide and Camping World Truck circuits, NASCAR has combined some of their stats with the Cup Series totals, putting a spin on the win leaders list.
Petty still leads with 200, all in Cup, and Pearson adds a Nationwide win to total 106. But with 51 Nationwide wins and 30 Truck victories added to his 24 Cup triumphs, 27-year old Kyle Busch already ranks third with 105 total wins to date.
Kyle has Pearson in his sights and plenty of time to catch Petty. Whether Petty would recognize that record remains to be seen.