Danica Patrick's arrival in NASCAR has been much-discussed and watched by many, but Patrick hasn't exactly shot to the top of the standings so far.As the first female NASCAR driver adjusts to life in the big leagues of stock car racing, many have noted that she seems to be getting better as the races go on.
However, the recent Nationwide Series race at Michigan International Speedway has raised the question: are other drivers treating Patrick fairly? As Patrick spun out for the third time in one day, there wasn't a doubt in her crew chief Tony Eury, Jr.'s mind: no, she wasn't.
"I've heard comments made, 'Well, why is the 7 running so good? The girl is getting better and better,'" Eury told ESPN. "We all have egos. We don't want the girl to outrun us. It's a fact of she's getting put in some situations where she doesn't need [to be] put into because they're taking advantage. If she's loose, they'll get up under her right rear or whatever."
Getting spun out is a fact of life in NASCAR that Patrick isn't used to from her IndyCar racing days. In that sport, colliding with other cars is frowned upon because it's extremely dangerous for two cars to bump into each other. In the world of stock car racing, however, bumping a car and sending them into a spin is seen as a useful tactic for getting by a competitor.
That's a tactic Patrick hasn't learned yet. There's no doubt that spinning someone out is seen as "dirty driving" by some fans, and Patrick hasn't been seen doing it thus far. Yet she's had it done to her - as evidenced by her three spin-outs during the race in Michigan.
On the 104th lap, Patrick was in the top 15 when Austin Dillon got underneath her and spun her out. The move infuriated Eury, who immediately got on the radio and reassured his driver.
"All this [stuff] people are doing to you, remember it and when you get to them and you want to race them dirty, race them the exact same way - put your bumper right underneath there and take their air off." he reportedly told her, according to Sporting News. "Just remember it... They hate that you’re running this good."
Ten laps later, Patrick had recovered and was in 8th place. That's when she was once again spun out, this time by Brad Sweet. This time, Patrick hit the wall and couldn't quite recover. She eventually finished 18th overall - one of her better finishes, but maybe not where she could have been if she had stayed straight.
According to Eury, the issue is ultimately about respect. Eury points to recent winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., as a driver who other racers respect on the track. They know that if they intentionally spin Earnhardt into the wall, he'll be back for vengeance and they can expect to be spun out soon after. Patrick, however, hasn't yet shown that she's willing to return the favor.
For her part, Patrick doesn't believe there's any issue. She says she's still adjusting to the people she's racing against, and doesn't feel that others on the track are being "dirty" solely because she's a woman.
"When you're racing with new people, you're trying to earn each other's respect," Patrick told ESPN. "You're saying, 'This is where I want to be.' I think I was racing with different people lately. You have to feel each other out."