Another New Year: Dale Jr. and Danica

     January 2010                                        Dale Wilkerson

Another new year, and yet again another format change for the Bud-Shootout. So what is the bottom line with this change? That would be the same results of last year’s change; Dale Junior will be in the race!!

With the new format change, Junior will never miss another Bud Shootout. Any past winner of this event or the Daytona 500 are now guaranteed a starting spot, no matter how they qualified for races the previous season.

In this day of the all inclusive College Bowl season, the two month long NBA playoffs, wildcard teams in both football and baseball, let’s not tell anybody they can’t race in an all star type race. What happened to earning a spot?

Some will say this is done for ticket sales and television ratings. Rating perhaps but the Bud Shootout does not draw a huge crowd. That problem could be the cost of tickets at Daytona. In fact last July, the track closed the entire backstretch grandstands due to not selling enough tickets for the Coke Zero 400 in recent years.

Some years the Shootout has been just that, a shootout. Drivers would be on the edge of control, hanging it out in attempt to win the first race of the year. Other years, the Shootout is nothing more than a ticketed practice session for the Daytona 500 that happens to pay the participating drivers.

As for Dale Junior, who won the Shootout for Rick Hendrick in 2008, this would be a great way to get 2010 off to a great start. Junior has always run well at Daytona. He had a fast car last February before he triggered a multi-car wreck during the Daytona 500. With his three Hendrick Teammates finishing 1-2-3 in the final points standings, Junior knows he needs to pick up the pace this season.

Speaking of teammates, Danica Patrick will be driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick in the Nationwide Series this season. Patrick, who has one victory in the Indy Racing League, will be splitting time between the IRL and the Nationwide Series. This sounds similar to what Tony Stewart did to get up to speed in NASCAR. Unlike Stewart, Patrick is planning on making her first NASCAR starts at some of the high speed racetracks though.

Tony Stewart, even though he had won several championships in open wheel cars, started slow when he came to NASCAR. His first race was at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. Stewart worked his way up to the big tracks, gaining experience in the heavier full bodied stock cars, while running the complete IRL schedule.

When Stewart made the move to the Sprint Cup Series, he was ready. Yes he still made rookie mistakes along the way, but he also set some rookie records including most wins by a rookie with three. He finished fourth in the season points standings, which at the time, was the second highest finish by a rookie. James Hylton holds that record with a second place finish in 1966.

Word is the Patrick will race in California at the Auto-club Speedway. Some are speculated that due to her ARCA test last month; perhaps the Daytona International Speedway will be the site for her first NASCAR start. She has not been exposed to 43 cars on track at one time except for competing in the 24 Hours of Daytona last year. As for the speeds, the California Speedway is faster than Daytona. Perhaps Danica could talk to Tony Stewart and follow his plan to NASCAR success.

Patrick is a very good racecar driver, but so was Tony Stewart when he first crawled into a NASCAR vehicle. She will have the best equipment and if she does not have early success, folks will say yes there is another Indy driver that can’t cut the mustard in a stock car.

On the other hand, if Danica Patrick finds success quickly in her venture into the world of NASCAR, forget calling Jimmy Johnson Superman, because Wonder Woman has lassoed the competition.