Is Danica Patrick a Hall of Famer?

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In four seasons and 97 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Danica Patrick has earned six top-10 finishes, a pole in the 2013 Daytona 500 and an average finish of 24.5.

According to Steven Cole Smith at Motorsport.com, Patrick, 33, has also earned an eventual spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Smith notes that while female drivers, including Sarah Christian, Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith were a part of NASCAR from its inception in 1949, Patrick is the first to have any staying power in the sport 66 years later.

Writes Smith:

And while she may not yet have compiled sheer statistics that would send her to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the fact that she has been the first female driver to prove that a woman – particularly a woman that isn’t built like a roller derby jammer – can survive season after season in what has always been, and still is, a man’s sport.

Smith points out that in Patrick’s third full season in the Sprint Cup Series, she is currently 19th in the points standings. That’s puts here ahead of Greg Biffle (20th), Sam Hornish Jr. (25th) and her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate/owner Tony Stewart (26th).

Smith continues:

That shows competence. And for a slot in the Hall of Fame, I contend that’s plenty for a pioneer. I’m not remotely saying that her situation mirrors the struggle that Hall of Famer Wendell Scott faced as the first black driver to make a living in NASCAR, but there are similarities.

Smith also says that outside of Tony Stewart, Patrick is the only driver to transfer from IndyCar to NASCAR and have success, citing the names of Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti.

But both Montoya and Hornish have something Patrick doesn’t – wins.

Montoya won twice in his seven full seasons in the Cup series and made the Chase for the Sprint Cup once. For Hornish, even though he hasn’t found success at the Cup level, he still earned three wins the Xfinity Series while racing sporadically in it for nine years.

In her 61 Xfinity races in five years, Patrick earned one top five (Las Vegas) and seven top-10 finishes.

But for Smith, it comes down to Patrick being a “pioneer” in the sport.

Whatever she does from here on out is, frankly, irrelevant. She has proven that a woman can compete in NASCAR, can run consistently, can handle a stock car for 500 miles, can deal with the brutal schedule.

She is the first. That’s Hall of Fame credentials.