CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Danica Patrick raced 513 laps around Darlington Raceway last weekend. What did you do?
Chances are, if you’re an ardent NASCAR fan, you might have snickered at the mention of her name. You probably grumbled about the attention she received all weekend.
It’s OK; Patrick learned to ignore the haters long ago.
If she paid attention, she never would have chased her dreams of being a professional race car driver. If she listened to the criticism, she probably would have hung up her firesuit years ago.
And now, with Twitter? A weaker woman might crawl under the covers and never come out again. But that’s not Patrick. She’s strong and brave and she rolled into Darlington and the track known historically for separating the men from the boys, and didn’t back down.
She’s not celebrated for any of that, at least not among the majority of racing fans. They instead fixate on her one win in 115 IndyCar starts, and now her struggles in NASCAR.
Sure, her progress has been slow, but people seem to forget that racing is hard. If anyone could do it, that guy zipping down the interstate with his flashy rims could have run at Darlington on Saturday.
Patrick didn’t pick Darlington for her second Sprint Cup Series start. The bright idea belonged to Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion generally regarded as one of the most versatile drivers on the planet. Even so, his 13-year résumé lacks a Cup win in 20 career starts at Darlington.
Nobody thought Patrick would compete for a victory, and Stewart did a masterful job all weekend of lowering expectations to the point he basically said he didn’t expect anything at all.
“The more time she can spend on track the more experience she is going to get,” he said.
In the end, Patrick finished a respectable 12th in the Nationwide race, her Darlington debut. She was 31st the next night, six laps down from winner Johnson.
All in all, it was a successful weekend. Sadly, not everyone views it that way.
There’s a strong resentment toward Patrick that really has to end. It’s mean-spirited – sexist in some cases – and even though it doesn’t bother her, it is harmful to little girls everywhere who maybe dream of being race car drivers.