Is NASCAR ready for Danica? Is Danica ready for NASCAR?Written by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Danica Patrick show was just about to get interesting with one of those sleazy Go Daddy commercials ready to air when an IndyCar race broke out.
Or, as they might say in the South, where Patrick could be headed, dadgummit.
It’s hard to imagine NASCAR’s good ol’ boys fixin’ to share the stage with a female race car driver, none of whom have ever been successful in them their big, ugly ‘ol stock cars, but the rumors persist and Patrick is riding them for all the leverage she can muster as her current contract with Andretti Green Racing will expire at the end of this season.
She is IndyCar’s chosen one. She is IndyCar’s only one. From a marketing perspective, there won’t be another one of her gender who will be nearly as appealing.
Patrick has it all — sex appeal, intelligence, swagger.
Her IndyCar record is not all that alluring with only one win in 75 starts since joining the Indy Racing League (IRL) in 2005. But a little more makeup, a different camera angle, something to wear that’s sexier than a fire suit and who will care how many races the two-time Sports Illustrated Swim Suit model has won?
She’s fast and she’s capable whether she’s strapped in or strapless.
The debate is whether Patrick is ready for NASCAR or, just as importantly, if NASCAR even desires Danica.
There’s absolutely no question that the IRL needs Patrick in the worst way. It has failed to develop its own American-born leading lights since its inception in 1995, so why not a pinup? The closest the IRL got to creating its own home-grown star was Sam Hornish, Jr., of Defiance, before he dashed off to NASCAR full time last year.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has 43 drivers weekly in its respective fields whom it attempts to promote in some fashion with at least 20 worth mentioning as potential race winners. The IRL is lucky to get 20 participants at each of its races following the Indy 500 and maybe about 10 could be billed as prospective winners. Among those would be Patrick, who is in some of the league’s best equipment with team owner Michael Andretti leaving the tutelage of his son, Marco, to help Patrick map out a course to Victory Circle.
NASCAR shouldn’t be ready to divide its publicity in half, with at least 50 percent of it sure to go to Patrick if she joins up. The IRL apparently is OK with giving Patrick as much as 90 percent of its marketability. The other participants in the series? Go fish.
Patrick could be considered an overhyped attention seeker with few accomplishments to her credit. At least her counterpart in that regard in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has won a total of 18 Sprint Cup Races, though none since winning at Michigan International Speedway last year, that breaking a 76-race winless streak.
This is not about gender equity. It’s about Patrick and NASCAR not being a good fit at this time. Neither is ready for the other.
Patrick says she wouldn’t make the jump unless it would be to a team that has qualified winning ability right now. It would seem the only feasible avenue for her if she were to go stock-car racing would be to start at the NASCAR Nationwide level. It would quickly prove she was in over her head. Out of her league.
Can’t you just see the diminutive Patrick in a huff stomping down pit road at, say, Bristol to cuff a competitor after a race for not living up to her expectations as she’s done on many occasions in the IRL?
Three-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, asked recently if Patrick should become a good ol’ girl, said, “Come on over, although not until you’re ready. And trust me, you’re not ready.”
Even if you might have issues with Johnson, trust him on this one.
Think about all of the IRL drivers who tried to make an impression in NASCAR with more flattering credentials and aptitude than Patrick and didn’t succeed; didn’t come close.
The iconic NASCAR king, Richard Petty, trying to be as diplomatic as possible, recently stated, “I just don’t think it’s a sport for women, and so far, it’s proved out … It’s good for them to come in. It gives us a lot of publicity, it gives them publicity. But as far as being a real true racer, making a living out of it, it’s kind of tough.”
Celebrity status works well in most racing circles when it comes to promoting your product, NASCAR included, but success is the overseer that will eventually judge you. Patrick needs the IRL, and the IRL is in desperate need of Patrick, it’s only real marketing mechanism.
NASCAR needs Dale, not Danica, to get pointed in the right direction again.