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Why it's getting harder to defend Danica Patrick

Full disclosure: I like Danica Patrick.

Ever since she joined NASCAR six seasons ago, I've pulled for her to win. Partly because it would be great for the sport and partly to shut up the chauvinists who still don't believe a woman should be driving with men.

In a sport that is losing big personalities — Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are retired and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is about to be — Patrick has everything NASCAR needs to have a superstar lift the sport up onto her shoulders.

She is charismatic, fiery, outspoken, funny, self-deprecating, well-spoken and it would be naive to say she her looks have nothing to do with her popularity.

She's Wonder Woman. Literally.

Wonder Woman sponsored her car last week.

Patrick has it all.

Well, except success on the racetrack. Which, I know, is kind of the point of this whole thing.

And now, it's her woe-is-me attitude that is turning off some people who actually like her.

Like me.

Last weekend, she gave an incredibly tone-deaf interview that infuriated NASCAR fans and set off a firestorm on Twitter.

Patrick was having a good night in Kansas with 68 laps remaining when she was knocked out in a violent three-car crash that started because of a part breaking on Joey Logano's car and ended with Tampa's Aric Almirola going to the hospital. Almirola suffered a compression fracture in his back and is sidelined indefinitely.

Nobody had a worse night than Almirola. Well, unless you ask Patrick.

While Almirola was being air-lifted to the hospital, Patrick bellyached about her rotten luck in an interview with Fox.

"I feel absolutely horrible, I just don't understand why so much bad luck happens," Patrick said. "I was having a really good night and that's what makes me most mad. Every time I'm doing better something stupid happens. And ... it's just killing me."

On and on she went, toggling back-and-forth between throwing herself a pity party and biting sarcasm that only amplified her complete insensitivity towards a fellow driver. She talked that something really bad was going to happen to her one of these days while completely ignoring that something really bad happened to Almirola.

Patrick spoke for exactly 1 minute and 43 seconds before it dawned on her to send best wishes to Almirola.

That was about 1 minute and 40 seconds too late. Twitter responded immediately.

One read: "I've never been so disappointed with a driver's post wreck behavior as I was with you today. Prayers for Aric Almirola.''

Another said, "Danica Patrick just gave the most immature, self-absorbed interview. Almirola left on a stretcher, but it's all about Danica's problems.''

That was just the tip of it all and Patrick deserved every bit of the shade thrown her way.

It's bad enough that you're not a winner, but now you're a whiner?

Granted, she was only a few minutes removed from scary wreck, and her emotions were bound to be a little raw. But it also goes to show the pressure she must be feeling for her complete lack of real success.

She has started 165 NASCAR races and has no wins. Her best-ever finish was sixth in Atlanta in 2014 — just one of six top-10 finishes in her career. Her NASCAR highlight, so far, was winning the pole at Daytona in 2013. She finished eighth.

Basically, her NASCAR career hasn't lived up to the expectations. She drives a good car with good equipment, certainly good enough to win. Her Stewart-Haas teammates win. One of those teammates, Kurt Busch, recently questioned whether she's aggressive enough to have NASCAR success.

This is all to point out that you can begin to understand why Patrick snapped a bit in the interview after last weekend's crash.

Has any driver in the history of the sport had their careers dissected more than Patrick? Has any driver been criticized more for their lack of success than Patrick? Can you name another driver who was knocked by one of the greatest names in the sport for never winning the way Patrick was by Richard Petty a few years back?

No wonder she's not Miss Manners after a race. This isn't an excuse, but an explanation.

She's feeling the heat and there are strong rumors that this could be her last year in NASCAR. She was running just outside the top 10 last Saturday night when she crashed. Who knows, maybe this would have been the breakthrough race.

Instead it was another chapter in an underwhelming career.

Hopefully the next moment will be a terrific one. And not the last one.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

Why it's getting harder to defend Danica Patrick 05/16/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 1:27pm]
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