The Princess of Menace?

I’ve Been Thinkin’…: This whole blow up around Scott Dixon’s comments on Danica Patrick’s driving style after the Iowa race has been interesting to watch. There’ve been so many different responses to the comments, from all different corners, that seem to fall into three main categories:

  • You’re Just Jealous – Lots of fans think any criticism of Danica equals jealousy that she gets all the attention. No doubt there is some jealousy – she was the face of the league long before she won her race – but that doesn’t mean that she’s incapable of making mistakes or driving in a manner that ticks off other racers. It’s been politically incorrect to criticize Danica so far – but in the spirit of “What’s good for the gander is good for the goose,” I think that should stop. She’s good enough to be out there and competing, and she has to take the good, bad and ugly as a whole, just like everyone else.
  • What Do You Expect? She Sucks! – Uh, no. She’s definitely not the best driver out there, but she’s far from the worst. If you divide the current field into threes, she’s likely near the top of the middle tier. And for all the recent criticism of her style when protecting her spot, a lot of drivers will tell you that she has improved steadily as she’s gained experience in this series. Helio Castroneves in particular went out of his way to point out that she doesn’t overdrive her car like she used to, and makes good choices about how to handle on-track situations.
  • Our Princess Gets Special Treatment – If she really is Princess Blocks-a-Lot, why doesn’t Race Control black flag her? Is there a separate rule book for her? I think there’s some complexity in this angle. Brian Barnhart has stated that he hasn’t seen any reason to black flag her for blocking, and some broadcasters and journalists agree that she isn’t blatantly blocking, just protecting her line within the rule book. Her own point of view is that she shouldn’t be easy to pass – why should she just pull over? “If you’re gonna pass me, earn it.” But I have to consider that there is likely a set of “unspoken” on-track rules of etiquette that develops in any series – especially one as small and dangerous as IndyCar. It’s pretty likely that the drivers’ definition of blocking is broader than the league’s rule book – we are talking about race drivers, here. They’re by necessity “lead with the forehead” types who are inclined to think you just need to get out of their way. And due to the danger inherent in close quarters open wheel racing, a driver’s perspective of “taking care of each other” is going to be different than that of Race Control as well.

My own perspective is that we probably have a case of Danica not adhering to the driving community’s “rules of etiquette,” yet not quite meeting the rule book’s definition of blocking. And that’s something she needs to be concerned with. “What goes around comes around” can strike you at just the wrong time if you haven’t built up much good will with your fellow competitors. Hopefully she can open and keep a dialog with her fellow competitors, to learn what they think she’s doing “wrong,” as well as to remind them where appropriate that she’s not going to pull over to the apron and let someone by every time they come up on her. That might also help keep the complaints about her out of the press, where her reputation takes a hit as well.

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