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You can’t always win, but you can learn. Best lesson: Annika or Danica?

March 12, 2010 – 1:07 PM

By Laura Pappano

Obviously Danica Patrick struggled in her NASCAR debut.

After finishing 6th in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, a race to “get comfortable,” she crashed at the Daytona International Speedway (finishing 35 out of 43 drivers), finished 31st (three laps behind winner Kyle Bush) at Auto Club Speedway in California, and crashed again in Las Vegas trying to pass Michael McDowell.

For now, Patrick is back driving Indy Race cars (they look more like toy racers than regular cars; quick video here on the difference between Indy and NASCAR).

The message to her crew after Daytona? “Thanks guys,” she radioed. “Sorry I sucked today. But I’ll figure it out.” Her point in a USA Today story was that she was at the start of a learning curve. “You know what? This is a whole new ball of wax for me, and it’s all different. I have to disconnect from my results for quite some time because they’re probably not going to be what I’m used to.”

What I like about Patrick is that she’s coming back. After Annika Sorenstam played a spectacular first round at the PGA Colonial in June 2003, but failed to make the cut in the second round, she curtsied, and ran for the exit:

“I’m glad I did it, but this is way over my head,” she said. “I’ve got to go back to my [LPGA] tour, where I belong.”

Danica gets that when you compete at a high level, you may not come out on top your first time out. She knows she must learn, adjust to the equipment, conditions, and competition. In other words, the problem is NOT that she is a female in a male-dominated sport.

Maybe this is a valuable lesson (and not just at elite levels of play): It is not always about gender. Sometimes it’s a matter of practice.

No one will forget how well Sorenstam played under tremendous pressure (her participation was cast as an updated “Battle of the Sexes”). Imagine if she would have done what Danica is doing? Who’s to say she couldn’t hone her short game tools to play in a run of PGA events? (I bet they’d love to have her now).

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