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Danica Patrick is getting worse, not better
When she mysteriously won pole in Daytona she was called a superstar
The word "mania" is defined as a state of "abnormal excitement, often of a transient or temporary nature." That could end up being an apt description of the NASCAR condition known as Danica-mania. The enthusiasm surrounding Danica Patrick's foray into Sprint Cup racing has been a bit abnormal—or certainly excessive—when you weigh it against her overall performance on the track. And it is that same performance, or lack thereof, that could make Danica-mania a temporary phenomenon.

Patrick earned her initial popularity with her successful showings in the Indianapolis 500, finishing fourth in 2005 and third in 2009, as well as her victory in the 2008 Indy Japan 300. These were historic firsts for a female auto racer, and Patrick deserved all the accolades and recognition that came with them. It certainly didn't hurt that she is attractive and has been willing to display her physical attributes in a series of bawdy commercials for sponsor GoDaddy.

Nobody thought Patrick was going to jump into the Sprint Cup Series this year and rip off a bunch of top-10 finishes. But it was reasonable to expect that she would pop up in the top-10 on occasion and, if nothing else, at least show signs of improvement. Instead, she has actually gotten worse as the season has progressed. She cracked the top-15 four times in the first 18 races, but hasn't finished better than 20th in any of her last 12 starts. She sits 28th in the point standings, behind Denny Hamlin, who has made four fewer starts than Patrick this season, and 54-year-old Mark Martin, who has made seven fewer.

Perhaps the most troubling statistic involves Patrick's performance on return visits to tracks this season. Overall, her average was 24.1 the first time around, but has since dropped to 28.4 for her second time around the eight tracks she has raced on more than once. Patrick has improved her finish only twice: going from 28th to 26th at Bristol, and 37th to 27th at New Hampshire.

Her biggest drop-off of the season occurred this past Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Patrick finished 25th there back in April, but on Sunday she didn't make it through the first lap before crashing and finishing last. Granted, the combination of a freshly paved racing surface and a new tire had even veteran Cup drivers struggling to keep from sliding and spinning out. Still, Patrick basically admitted afterward that the wreck simply was a case of driver error. Her driver error.

"I knew going into the race ... that losing grip was going to be not that hard to do. So I said, 'Make sure that we're on top of who is on my door and who is behind me,'" Patrick admitted. "And I knew all that was going to be happening on the start.

Cole Whitt, driver of the #30 Swan Energy Toyota, David Reutimann, driver of the #83 Burger King/Dr Pepper Toyota, get taken out on lap 1 by Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet
Getty Images for NASCAR
"I had enough momentum to go to the middle because I got a run on the car in front of me, but I had to wait past the start-finish line. I lifted going into turn one and ... I just found myself sideways in the middle of the corner, and that was it.

"So, I don't know. If I did something wrong, I apologize to everybody on my team. It's a shame."

It could be that Patrick simply is wearing down from the rigors of a 36-race Cup season, which she has never before experienced. It could be that she is going to be another in a long line of open wheel drivers who were unable to make a successful transition to stock car racing. Or, most optimistically, it could be that Patrick is still a rookie in the series and will get better in ensuing years.

For now, the mania over Patrick continues relatively unabated. Little girls look up to her as a role model for what she has accomplished, and that is definitely a good thing. GoDaddy remains firmly in her corner, which is crucial in the sponsor-driven world of NASCAR. But at some point, Patrick is going to have to show some tangible signs of improvement. If not, then Danica-mania risks running its course and becoming little more than a momentary fad. SI.com

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