My two cents on Danica to NASCAR
Previous IndyCar converts have had mixed results in NASCAR
Even if Danica Patrick struggled, a stock car foray could be lucrative
Jimmie Johnson needs to average fourth in last two races to secure 2009 Chase
SI.com's Mark Beech takes a spin around the racing world for the most intriguing stories in and out of the garage.
What's my response to the news that Danica Patrick is likely to race a limited schedule for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide team next year?
Exhibit A: Sam Hornish Jr., one of the finest IndyCar drivers in recent memory.
Jimmie Johnson's least favorite Cup driver (at least for this week) has slightly improved from last season's 35th-place finish, but he's hardly shown any potential for having the sort of monster third season that Juan Pablo Montoya put together after his arrival from IndyCar. Including Hornish's wreck-filled trip to Texas last Sunday (the sixth race he has failed to complete this year because of a crash) he now ranks 30th in the points standings. He's only completed 8,744 laps in 2009, the lowest total of all but two other drivers currently in the top-35, and hasn't finished better than 36th in a race in more than four weeks. Yes, Hornish has seven top-10 finishes in 2009 (the only seven of his career), but if he is improving, he's doing a heck of a job of hiding it.
Of course, even Montoya regressed a bit during his second season, dropping from 20th in the standings to 25th. But I don't see many signs that Hornish is ready, after two years behind the wheel, to compete for a spot in the Chase just yet. His troubles, and especially his car-control issues, indicate that he's not comfortable driving a bigger, heavier stock car -- especially one that handles poorly in the corners, as the new car does. So is Patrick's purported deal to drive Junior's Nationwide car just a publicity stunt?
Of course, as publicity stunts go, it would be a doozy, joining together the Most Popular Driver in NASCAR with someone who is not only an accomplished racer, but one of the more recognizable figures in American pop culture. No matter how much she might struggle, Patrick could cry herself to sleep at night on her piles of cash.
So really, there wouldn't be any losers here, in the long run. Just don't look for Patrick to make a full-time commitment to NASCAR if she runs poorly. Once she does, it's likely to take quite a while before she's competitive. Why rush things for that?
4: Average finish Jimmie Johnson needs over the last two races to secure his fourth straight Cup title
6: Number of races Johnson has competed in at Phoenix International Raceway since finishing worse than fourth (7th on April 22, 2006)
3: Number of victories for Johnson in those six races
THE PHOTO FINISH
I feel badly for this gentleman. I do. To most people, on-camera work seems to involve mostly talking, and everybody can talk. Right? Right?
Not everybody, unfortunately. I give this a 9.5 on the cringe-factor scale.