Having roots in America's Dairyland, a top five finish in last Saturday's Nationwide stop at Road America would've been the ideal confidence-builder for an anxious Danica Patrick and race team, JR Motorsports.
Fellow driver Jacques Villeneuve put the brakes on that storyline when he chose not to use his own pads on the fabled Wisconsin raceway.
In the final lap of the Sargento 200 in Elkhart Lake, Villeneuve inexplicably gave Ms. Honey Badger, who was holding down the five spot, a solid hit square on the back-end, causing her Chevrolet to spin off track and off path towards her second top-ten finish (Texas) as NASCAR approaches its half-way point of the 2012 season.
This was no harmless trading of paint. In his brief post-race interview on ESPN, a smirking Villeneuve was dismissive of the mishap with Patrick, giving a strange "brake" explanation as cause for the short, sharp shock.
Only fitting that the man who took the cheddar...checkered flag, German-born Brazilian Nelson Piquet, Jr., was as much in need of the ego-boost as Patrick. The son of the legendary Formula One champion, it was Junior's first victory in Nationwide (3) and his first on the NASCAR driving circuit where he's competed mostly in the Camping World Truck Series (37), hitting that track the same year as Danica (2010).
Race officials and NASCAR will assess the matter further, but I found it ironic that just prior to Jacque's contact with the # 7 GoDaddy.com car, ESPN announcers speculated that NASCAR drivers are willing to "push" Patrick as "they know she won't push back."
Was this track take-out confirmation of such a prevailing attitude in the pits or merely an unfortunate accident and coincidence? I'll leave that judgment call to NASCAR, but as Elaine Benes of Seinfeld fame would say, "That's a BIG coincidence."
Though she was in no position to push-back once taken out, just the fact that DP was in the leadership pack before the bump means she was giving-back as well as others gave.
While Jacques was flippant, in her own post-race interview, Danica showed strength of character by 'taking the high road' in choosing to avoid the blame-game and deciding instead to focus on the positives of her bittersweet Road America experience.
"I was running ahead, didn't finish the deal (ESPN / 6-24)."
The ESPN race-announcer's observation was news to me, but not a shock, if true.
NASCAR drivers may not be the good ol' boy bunch of stock-car's earlier days, but it's still a man's sport where women on the track are usually wives or trackside reporters.
Patrick's position is not entirely unlike Jackie Robinson's in 1947. The bar will always be set higher for those who try to break barriers. Their resolve must be twice as strong.
But Patrick is starting to hit her marks on the raceway with more consistency now and it showed at RA. Hard part is finding that delicate balance, knowing when to push back and when to suck it up, or in the spirit of the Badger State, when to move "forward."
Playing the smart-card in her post-race interview was a good play. In any job, you've gotta' earn your stripes and make your own reputation. No one's gonna' hand it to you. But most drivers, not all, will respect the new employee who can take his / her lumps, put it behind 'em and stay focused on the next job that's just around the corner.
Branch Rickey and Robinson knew all too well, that, if you give the troublemakers & knuckleheads an opening, they'll slither right in.
Finding that balance, along with a little luck that every driver needs on occasion, Ms. Patrick should get a few more Nationwide top-10s and maybe even a nice Sprint Cup finish this season.
I just hope she can find her own Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese to help hobble the chuckleheads along the way.
Any volunteers, NASCAR?