Danica Patrick’s good looks and brand appeal make her a media superstar regardless of her on track performances in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. But just because she is a marketing machine doesn’t mean that she lacks the driving chops to compete with the big boys – she has demonstrated on many occasions that she has the skills to hold her own with the very best on the racetrack. However, her 2012 campaign on the Nationwide circuit has been a frustrating one, as she has spent much of her race time in the garage, waiting for her team to repair damages.

Her experience at Watkins Glen on August 11 was an unfortunate microcosm of her first full-time NASCAR season. On the very first lap, Patrick was involved in a crash that was not of her making, as Ryan Truex barreled into her on the first turn, puncturing her radiator and ending her race day almost before it began. Her last place finish was the worst of her career, but sadly continues a trend that she has thus far been unable to buck; she now has six DNFs (Did Not Finish) in 21 starts this season – and five DNFs in her last 12 starts.

Despite strong performances in several races, where she spent considerable time in the top five, she only has one top ten performance to show – an 8th place result at Texas all the way back in April. A long string of disappointments began on July 6, when — after leading for 13 laps and appearing to be a viable contender for the checkered flag — she was caught up in a bottleneck that ended with her #7 GoDaddy car making a violent and race-ending impact with the backstretch wall. That crash was a distressing harbinger of things to come for Patrick, who crashed out of another four races in the ensuing stretch.

However difficult the season has been so far for Patrick, there are ample opportunities for her to turn everything around – or for it to continue to get worse. In addition to her upcoming Nationwide calendar, she is scheduled to compete in four of the next six Sprint Cup races – so she will be racing on back-to-back days four times in the next month and a half.

Patrick, her crew chief, and her handlers have repeatedly insisted that the goal of this season is not necessarily to compete for championships, but rather to obtain the time and experience necessary for to continually improve and be a factor in future years. This stance is of course complicated by the fact that Patrick is a major media figure, largely due to her gender and side gigs as a model and advertising icon. Many race car fans are expecting immediate results from Danica, lest they deem her a failure.

However, it must be noted that Danica Patrick is a relative newbie to the stock car racing world, and like other rookies in their respective sport, she must pay her dues and hope to build a track-record of success one step at a time. The first step for Danica will be to try to avoid – to the extent that this is possible – the unfortunate wrecks that have plagued her in recent races. If she can finish strongly this season, she could be primed to get a whole lot more attention in 2013 – this time for her racing prowess, not just her “Q Factor”.

What do you think of Patrick’s season so far? Should she stay in NASCAR? Let us know in the comments!

Jack Payton is a car nut and motorsports fanatic in the purest form. He loves to write about everything gear related, and rebuilt his first engine at 15. He works as a freelance writer for the online tire retailer Tires Easy. In his spare time he enjoys cruising, following NASCAR, and collecting vinyl.