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Head2Head: Will Patrick start to run up front consistently?

March 07, 2011, , NASCAR.com

After record-breaking fourth-place finish at Vegas, pressure is on to keep it going

The buzz is still being felt from Danica Patrick's historic fourth-place finish in the Nationwide race last Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Not only was it a career-high for Patrick, but it was the highest a woman has finished in any of NASCAR's three national series.

Will Danica Patrick start to consistently run up front?

YES NO

Danica Patrick's historic fourth-place run at Las Vegas shows exactly what Patrick and the No. 7 team is capable of each week, and you will see a tremendous amount of success the rest of the season from them.

In three races this season, on three completely different tracks, Patrick has posted finishes higher than her best race last season. She was strong at Daytona and finished a then career-high 14th. She backed it up at Phoenix with a 17th-place effort and then changed the record books at Las Vegas.

And while everyone else was surprised at her fourth-place finish, she and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. knew exactly what they had -- and that was a top-10 car. While expectations are high inside the No. 7 garage, outside the team is diminishing them -- a genius move to keep the pressure off.

This finish was no fluke either. Yes, it was a fuel-mileage race in the end, but Patrick was in the top 15 all day, and even had to battle back from being a lap down to get in position at the end. That's three races where Patrick has been one of the stronger drivers on the track -- and that trend will continue.

Patrick can drive. The haters will find flaws, but the fact remains she is consistently getting better each week. Plus, five of her final eight races will be on tracks she's already competed on in the Nationwide Series.

Get used to seeing Danica out front people, she will be there a while.

Bill Kimm, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

While it was a nice story at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when Danica Patrick finished fourth in last Saturday's Nationwide race, let's not get too worked up about it.

And this isn't about fuel mileage. So her finish Saturday was largely the result of a late fuel-mileage gambit that paid off. So what? That doesn't diminish the fact that she ran with the leaders much of the race.

That Patrick is beginning to show considerable progress in stock cars cannot be disputed. But her car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., hit it on the head last year when he lamented the fact that Patrick simply can't build upon her experiences week after week because, well, she's not in the seat of a stock car week after week.

Following the March 19 race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Patrick won't race in the Nationwide Series again until June 4 at Chicagoland Speedway. Then she'll race in the series just once a month until November, when she's slated to run the final three races of the season.

Patrick, 28, won't consistently run up front and contend for wins until -- or unless -- she commits full-time to NASCAR. It's that simple. And that's not going to happen anytime soon, as she signed a three-year contract to run full-time in the IndyCar Series in December of 2009 -- a deal that ensures she will run only on a part-time basis in NASCAR through at least the 2012 season.

Joe Menzer, NASCAR.COM

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

But will that success continue for the second-year part-timer? Patrick has one more race at Bristol before her focus returns to her roots of IndyCar racing. Patrick has eight events left in 2011, will she be consistently run up front, or was this just a one-time thing? Joe Menzer and Bill Kimm have their thoughts on Patrick. Read theirs and then weigh in with your own in the comments below. And don't forget to vote for whose argument you agree with more in the poll at the right.