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Rahal and other drivers talk about Danica UPDATE Look at this feature on SportsIllustrated.com  where the other drivers talk about Danica. Many of them don't have many complimentary things to say either. We especially love Tony Stewart's comment: ""I can't believe I'm getting interviewed today. She must have finished early."
Bobby Rahal

We like the guts the Orlando Sentinel has always shown in accurately reporting on the NASCAR world. They have even published stories that had them banned from the speedway in the interest of the true story and journalistic integrity. So we were not really surprised to see this non-complimentary interview that was published today.

Anyone who has not had their head in the sand (or snow) knows that Danica Patrick was brought up through the open wheel ranks by Bobby Rahal and the Rahal-Letterman Racing team. She led the race her first IndyCar season, and won Rookie of the Year with the Rahal-Letterman team.

Rahal was recently interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel, and discussed candidly what he think about Danica and her potential in NASCAR.

We think Rahal is really the first one to say it how it is. His comments seem to echo the informed opinions that Danica is a decent driver, but not a champion. She can drive a car if it is setup for her, which seems to have always been the case. Barber Dodge cars were setup pretty close, and they had a team of coaches to assist drivers, and she never won a race there. AJ Allmendinger dominated that series. When she was in Atlantics, she had John Fogarty as a teammate, among others. By comparison, NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger dominated the Barber Dodge Championship the same year Danica competed, and then again in 2003 when they both moved up to Atlantics. When she moved up to IndyCars, she had Buddy Rice and Vitor Miera. When she turned her back on the team that brought her to IndyCars, she went to Andretti-Green Racing, and had the likes of Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and others to draw setups from. Getting in a car and turning the wheel and working the pedals is only one part of what a driver does. The setup of the car is often times the limiting factor for a driver with good natural abilities.

Now, we don't just say this to be the fly in the soup. We just think that if there is going to be that much hype around a driver, they really need to be winners. It doesn't send a very good message about any sport for someone to be so popular in the media, when their skills and accomplishments in the sport do not justify it.

The following quotes are excerpts from the Orlando Sentinel interview.

Q: How do you think she'll do making the transition from open wheel racing to stock cars?
A: It's anyone's guess. It's a very different animal from what she's driven in the past. When you look at how long it took drivers of such tremendous talent as Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti and others to come to grips with it, I think it's going to be a tough job for her. One advantage she has certainly is being with a great team.

Q: How much of a test of her ability is the ARCA series race?
A: Let's face it — so many of the ARCA teams are essentially amateur teams and guys just scraping by, then a team backed by Rick Hendrick rolls in, and you have a whole different dynamic. Driving around the track by yourself is one thing, but stick her in the middle of 20 other cars fender-to-fender and it's a whole different story. We saw that in IndyCars certainly in the beginning of her career. Going flat-out in an Indy Car by yourself at a track like Kentucky or Kansas — higher-banked places like that — seems pretty simple, but then you put 12 guys wheel-to-wheel surrounding you and it's a whole different perspective and one a lot of people have trouble dealing with.

Q: She's planning to run 13 NASCAR Nationwide races, plus the 17 race Indy Car schedule — and four of those races are outside the U.S., including the season opener in Brazil. And there's the IRL testing schedule, too. How will that work for her?
A: It's going to be a very difficult, very different transition, and I'm not sure how she's going to do it with her schedule in both series. That's a lot of racing. I'm not sure how all that's going to work.

Q: Would you categorize her as a fast learner?
A: It's hard to say. I don't really know how to answer that. She came into our team in 2002, and I put her in a number of Barber Dodge races, and in 2003 and 2004, Formula Atlantic. And that was relatively comfortable for her, because she had driven Formula Fords in England, and those are similar cars. But when we put her in the Indy Car, she was very fortunate — similar to where she is today — because we had one of the dominant teams at the time, and she had Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira as teammates, and she never had to worry about setting the car up. Basically, it was get in and drive, because the cars were absolutely perfect. We won Indy in 2004, so when she went in there as a rookie in 2005, she had a good car and a good setup. All she really had to do was keep it off the walls and get the experience driving the car. It's not like she had to start from scratch, or with a less-prepared team. It would be difficult for me to say whether she was a quick learner, because she was allowed to learn fairly quickly because her responsibilities were half of what they would normally be. I don't know. We'll find out, won't we?

Q: Bottom line: It's been a tough transition for so many open wheel drivers to NASCAR.
A: When poor Scott Pruett went into NASCAR, it was like he had a target painted on his back. I'm afraid some of those good 'ol boys may not be too happy with all the coverage she's getting, when they feel they should be getting it. It's going to be an adventure, that's for sure.

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