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Poor Jimmie Johnson…

February 25, 2013

I really feel for “Five-Time” Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet who won the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday. His victory was somewhat of an after-thought because this was the Danica Patrick 500 wasn’t it?

Now Johnson gets to feel just as much a castaway as did Dan Wheldon in 2005, after the Briton was the Indianapolis 500 winner yet had to take a back seat to Patrick, who led laps in the 500 that May, becoming the first woman in history to do so. On Sunday Patrick, who won pole position for NASCAR’s premier race, was in the top-10 throughout nearly all the afternoon, led some (historic) laps and was running third after the white flag was shown, only to get adios’d back to eighth at the checkers.

Patrick was actually lucky only to fade to eighth as there was a last-lap crunch-up behind her and the balance of the top-10 runners that, thankfully, didn’t cause NASCAR to throw yellow. They let the race run to its very quick conclusion and that allowed Johnson to take his second “500” victory.

A quick look at today’s USA Today shows Danica Patrick on the front page, not Jimmie Johnson. It’s the same situation Wheldon faced in 2005 when she, not he got the front cover of Sports Illustrated. Danny Boy even had a t-shirt made stating that he was the actual winner of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Not Danica Patrick. I’m sure JJ has a better grasp on life in this particular fast-news lane and will let it slide as he prepares for next weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, close by Patrick’s former home.

But you can bet the Phoenix newspapers will be all a-gaga over the return of Princess Sparkle Pony (thanks Tommy Kendall for coining the best name for DP) to the Valley of the Sun. At least Auto Club Speedway is hosting Johnson this week in the Los Angeles area to commemorate his very nicely performed victory in NASCAR’s biggest race. It’s likely one of the very few extraordinary visits he’ll make this week before landing at Phoenix.

Those of us that have been involved with INDYCAR since 2004-5 are very familiar with Danicamania. NASCAR asked for this and, to be quite frank about it, I’m glad to see that Ms Patrick is earning huge NASCAR media throngs through her actions on the track. She’s looking much more comfortable in the Cup Chevy than she did last year and settled personally through the changes in her private life of late.

There’s still 35 races to go in NASCAR and this past weekend’s, while the biggest of the year, pays the same amount of points as the others. Patrick has always been good on longer tracks like Daytona (and Indy), so it’s no accident that she was so very competitive in Sunday’s contest. We’ll have to see how she does in the balance of the year and hope this wasn’t a “one and done” instance of competitiveness.

At the same time, did anyone notice that, for the second week in a row a Woman won an NHRA Mello Yello professional drag race at Phoenix’s Firebird International Raceway? At Pomona it was Courtney Force taking home the Wally for her Funny Car victory in the season opener. At Phoenix Erica Enders-Stevens won in the most technically competitive NHRA category, Pro Stock. After beating the boys three times last year, she showed those victories were no fluke.

And there’s more to be heard from NHRA’s female racers. Brittany Force has made the field in both of her first two starts in a heralded rookie season, but so has Leah Pruett, driving in the same Top Fuel category – it doesn’t get any faster than this – as Force, albeit with the smaller, Dote Family Racing team. Pruett out-qualified Force by a large margin this week, earning the fifth fastest qualifying speed and raced through to the quarter-finals at Phoenix.  Both Force, who came from Top Alcohol Dragster and former Pro Mod winner Pruett are vying for NHRA’s Auto Club Road to the Future (rookie) title in 2013.

So gosh, for the first time in my life I feel sorry for Jimmie Johnson, having to share his Daytona 500 victory with the driver who finished eighth. I guess he’ll have to get used to it, just as the male drivers in NHRA have gotten accustomed to getting their clocks cleaned by women in the fast lane.

By Anne Proffit

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