The Frontstretch: Danica Needs NASCAR - But Is It a Two-Way Street? by Amy Henderson -- Friday November 6, 2009

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Danica Needs NASCAR - But Is It a Two-Way Street?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday November 6, 2009


With it looking all but carved in stone that Danica Patrick will be joining the NASCAR ranks, there are many things NASCAR is happy about. First and foremost, they are getting a female driver who is competitive on her own skills; and let’s face it, one who looks like Danica can’t hurt. She’s certainly one of the best in the country at driving an open-wheel car, and this lends legitimacy to a campaign that has rarely been successfully completed in the past. She’s already a high-profile household name despite never having raced in the nation’s premier stock car series. It seems like a perfect fit. So, just one question.

Does NASCAR really need Danica Patrick?

At first glance, maybe they do. Ratings are falling faster than a bowling ball dropped out of an airplane, and there’s not much new or exciting to keep fans engaged. Perhaps they need the gimmick of a female driver who is certainly not afraid to flaunt anything – and I don’t just mean her ego. Perhaps a competitive female driver will capture the female demographic better than a male rookie might. Perhaps this, perhaps that.

As Danica Patrick looks to make the jump into stock cars in 2010, is NASCAR the one running after her with open arms — or is Danica the one desperate to land with a series that has the audience she so desperately craves?

Or perhaps, Danica needs NASCAR more than NASCAR needs her.

The IndyCar Series, by and large, doesn’t garner the audience that a NASCAR event does, with the possible exception of that one race in May. And Danica… well, Danica likes an audience. The bigger the better. And she’s shown that she’ll go to great lengths to get it, including spreading her body over the hood of a car wearing less than a firesuit. The NASCAR spotlight provides that for her.

Patrick is also… um, temperamental. Think Kyle Busch, but with estrogen. And while NASCAR needs character, they might not be ready for a driver as pugnacious as Patrick has shown herself to be. She’s been front and center for a couple of very public skirmishes in Indy cars – a catfight shouting match with Milka Duno, and a purposeful storming down pit road to confront Ryan Briscoe after a crash that she determined to be his fault. There was also the temper tantrum caught on her in-car camera after one spinout, when the emergency workers had the audacity to tend to other drivers first. (Patrick was unhurt and simply needed a push.) On closer inspection, Danica Patrick makes Kyle Busch look like Gandhi.

Most NASCAR fans don’t warm up to a whiner, and Patrick can whine with the best spoiled three-year-old and Kyle Busch – at the same time.

Is Danica Patrick a good racer? Well, yes. She is. She’s a constant top 10 threat in the IndyCar Series, and it’s not because other drivers lay over for her. She’s solid and aggressive, and she fears no man or woman on the track. Don’t try to intimidate her. Provided she can learn stock cars, she will be competitive, especially in the top-flight equipment she’ll get from Hendrick Motorsports — whose partnership with JR Motorsports, the organization for which Patrick will officially drive — assures her the best money can buy. She’s getting winning race cars, and there is no reason to believe that she won’t be competitive in her ARCA and NASCAR events.

But is Patrick good enough for NASCAR to bend the rules for? Apparently, she is, as the sport is allowing her to make her national touring series debut at Daytona — something that as recently as a last week, simply wasn’t allowed. Remember seeing Robert Richardson, Jr.’s name in the race results at Talladega? That wasn’t Richardson’s plan. He had planned to make his first attempt at Daytona in February 2010, but was told he had to make the Talladega start because the sanctioning body didn’t allow drivers to debut at Daytona. Yet here were are, a few days later, and it’s OK for Danica Patrick. Maybe she’s really that good, but the cynic in me wonders if NASCAR would have allowed Scott Dixon or another male IndyCar driver the same dispensation. Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish, Jr., both IRL champions (something that Patrick is not), did not make their NASCAR debuts at Daytona. Tony Stewart was allowed, but Stewart had driven some form of stock cars before – Patrick has not. Stewart was the reigning IRL champion at the time – Patrick is not. So is NASCAR bending a rule designed for the safety of the drivers because Patrick is a decent IRL driver… or because she’s a female IRL driver?

I do wonder if NASCAR would be salivating over the prospect of Patrick if she was a male driver. Her aggressive nature and attitude are a whole lot more Robby Gordon-esque than some people would like – not exactly endearing to race fans. And while many fans give lip service to the need for a “bad boy” (or girl), most of the bad boys aren’t very popular. They get booed. They get reviled. They get called names. Most of them don’t mind – it’s attention, after all, and it gets their sponsors on TV. But just like there are nice male drivers out there, there are nice, talented females, too. Chrissy Wallace comes to mind, and she’s actually eligible to start at Daytona, having made her Talladega debut last week.

Again, perhaps NASCAR does need Danica Patrick to a certain degree. She’s young, talented, and exciting, and with the decline in interest, she could be a quick fix in the short run, making casual or discouraged fans watch a few races in 2010. But that also comes with a caveat, as Patrick is also inexperienced in stock cars and has an attitude that makes an angry Yeti look like a pet kitten. Meanwhile, NASCAR has a young, talented, exciting, and bad attitude in Kyle Busch – and he’s experienced in the cars. They aren’t getting anything new in Danica Patrick, and once the novelty wears off, will her attitude wear thin? And if it does, is NASCAR any better off than they were before she walked into Daytona?

Patrick, on the other hand, needs NASCAR. She’s no longer a novelty in the IndyCar Series, and no longer garners as much television coverage as she once got simply for being in the field and running reasonably well. But she’ll get attention in NASCAR, and the TV time to go with it, whether she runs well or not. And since she’s already in the catbird seat with an array of built-in excuses – rookie, new to stock cars, raced too aggressively because she’s a female – if she doesn’t run well, that means she’ll have the ability to get more attention than she’s ever had if she does.

It could be a win-win situation, but it looks like one party is the real winner here. And in the long run, that might not be NASCAR.

Contact Amy Henderson

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11/06/2009 06:30 AM

Being a woman myself, you would think that I would be absolutely thrilled that a female driver is going to be in NASCAR – but, not so much. While I applaud her for making the effort (and let’s face it, her venture into NASCAR is about money & marketing), I do not believe women belong in this sport. I love the sport because I love watching MEN drive every Sunday, not women. I still have my doubts that a woman would be able to wheel a 3,000 lb. vehicle around the track with the big boys.

11/06/2009 08:04 AM

I don’t care if women get into races or not, but it should be based on skill and not being in an SI spread or sleeping with the boss.

M.B. Voelker
11/06/2009 08:31 AM

Many drivers have debuted at Daytona — after having ARCA experience there. Which is the likely plan as reported in other articles this morning.

The Turnip!
11/06/2009 08:49 AM

I see some deep issues with Danica coming to stock car racing, i.e. NA$CRAP!

First, her followers in the IRL open wheel series are a different bunch, and have a different mind-set/life style than a “NA$CRAP” fan! Two TOTALLY different groups in fact!

The question is, actually two questions:

#1) will Danica have the power to bring her fan base to stock car racing? Me thinks not!

#2) will the current NA$CRAP fan become enamored with a female driver, COMING OUT OF OPEN WHEEL RACING? Again, me thinks not!

Sure, it will give both more exposure (oops, did I really say that?)but only on a very limited and short term basis.

The only one’s that win are the sponsors that get to use her name!

And of course Danica herself taking home the cash!

We will see! We will see!

11/06/2009 09:42 AM

Jumping the gun a bit aren’t you ? Neither Danica or NASCAR has announced that she is racing next year .
As to your other point , NASCAR needs Danica a lot more than it needs Jimmy Johnson . Having Johnson in the sport sure hasn’t helped the ratings . In fact , most observers feel that Johnson has actually hurt the popularity of stock car racing with his whining and totally bland personality . Danica Patrick certainly isn’t bland .
And lastly , no , Danica doesn’t need NASCAR . She has a very successfull career in racing already . Just like Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya she is only looking to try another type of racing , not build a career .

11/06/2009 09:53 AM

I’m a female and I would like to see a woman driver but she isn’t the best representative of a female driver. She is all about her “brand”, everything is her “brand”, this is racing. She needs to get over herself. She thinks she can jump in the car and be great immediately, I don’t think so.

as for Mark’s comment “Just like Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya she is only looking to try another type of racing , not build a career .” Tony and Juan Pablo have come to nascar and created a career for themselves, separate from their open wheel careers. if she isn’t coming here to have a different career but to play why do we need her for?

11/06/2009 10:06 AM

Nascar needs Danica more than Danica needs Nascar. Especially in the NW series. That series has no identity due to old school fans turning off their tv sets due to the Cup domination of that series. This will give people another reason to watch.

Do I think she will be a successful driver in a stock car? Right now, I don’t think so. Driving a stock car is alot different than driving an indy car. I am, however, willing to give her a chance.

Kevin from PA
11/06/2009 12:01 PM

So we have another part time driver in the Nationwide series who will soak up any sponsors that might be left and will go home with a lot of race money. It really does stink to be a non-big team owner in any NASCAR series.

There will be a slight jump in general interest for the first few races; another bump if she wins. Regardless of her results, I cannot see any additional viewers (i.e. the general public) sticking around after a few races. Once September rolls around and the mighty NFL returns, the ratings will be back to normal.

I cannot see Danica ever becoming a full time NASCAR driver – and that statement has nothing in regards to her talent. The IRL season is 17 races which leaves a lot of time for a person with other interests. Compare that to NASCAR’s (ridiculous) season (36 races + pre-Daytona week + week for the All Star) and I don’t see the NASCAR grass being that much greener.

11/06/2009 12:18 PM

Danica Patrick coming to nas$crap is exactly about what nas$crap has become over the last 5 years or so. Nothing against Patrick, but this more about PR than racing. Winning doesn’t mean as much anymore. Just Ask Kyle Busch. 4 wins and he doesn’t make the chase. I’d rather see someone like Alli Owens get a chance with the same equipment that Patrick will get. Once again this is not a knock on Patrick. It’s about the rudderless ship that nas$crap has become. Bland, just bla nd.

Bad Wolf
11/06/2009 12:26 PM

I was watching the Busch series back in the ’90s following Shawna Robinson and hoping she could make the jump to cup. Patty Moise was also racing around that time, but I thought Shawna had more talent. Females are nothing new in Nascar, but none has made it to the top series in any full time successful manner. Nascar wants to take Danica and move her to the top of the class in a desperate bid for ratings and sponsors, and they are both using each other to further their own goals.

Nascar should look to the NHRA on how to do it. Ashley Force and Melonie Troxil are just drag racers first, and hot females second. The NHRA does not go out of their way to push them off on the fans, but lets the on track action promote them. Shirley Muldowny blazed the trail back in the ’70s and ’80s, and the NHRA did it right.

I’m afraid when and if Danica makes it to cup it will be all Danica and all Jr. all the time.

11/06/2009 02:36 PM

You won’t see much interest in her beyond Daytona next year until she gets to Sprint Cup. Her novelty has already worn off with the extensive coverage of her first Indy start a couple of years ago.

You’ll see a bump in ratings at Daytona because people are curious to see if she can perform. After that only the core Nationwide fans will continue to watch. I wouldn’t be depending on her to fuel growth in the Nationwide attendance or ratings.

Once she gets to Sprint Cup you’ll see some major press coverage, but unless she is successful right out of the gate the fact she is a female will become a non-issue much like it was with Shawna Robinson.

11/06/2009 03:14 PM

you said she is tempermental? Wow that’s an understatement! She can throw a tantrum, cry, stomp her feet and grab other drivers better than anyone! Face it, she is getting a shot (and has kept her job) sole-ly based on her looks. If her name was Daniel Patrick, she would be changing tires somewhere.

Don Mei
11/06/2009 03:46 PM

I cant believe some of the crap I see here. Danica will make it or not make it based entirely on her ability to make the transition from an open wheel car to a Nascar car just like any other driver coming over from another discipline. Anything else is simply biased speculation. I would remind those of you who think a woman cant make it because of her gender that Janet Guthrie finished 15th in the the Charlotte 600 in 1966. She had some good finishes in other races too, an eleventh at Bristol I think. Spare me “cars were easier to drive” crap. Anyone who saw those 7 litre stockers of that era knows they were a handful.

Kool Aid
11/06/2009 04:53 PM

for those complaining about this being about marketing. i would say half the cup field today have their rides today based on marketibility. you think casey mears or jamie mcmurray would be around for as long as they have been if they weren’t marketable?

Kool Aid
11/06/2009 05:06 PM

bad wolf,

robinson did make the jump to cup. guess you weren’t following that closely. matter of fact it was here at texas where she almost killed dale jr.

Bad Wolf
11/06/2009 09:24 PM

I guess I should have qualified my statement of hoping Shawna would make the jump to Cup as saying; I was following Shawna Robinson back in the ’90s and had hoped she could have made the move to Cup with a full time ride while she was in her prime and before she left racing to start a family.

How Kool Aid can say she made the jump to Cup when she only ran 1 race in 2001 and 7 in 2002 with underfunded teams is beyond me. The time for her to move to Cup would have been back in 1994, but another year or so in Busch with a decent ride would have been even better.

Kool Aid
11/06/2009 10:00 PM

how many races does one have to run for it to be considered a “jump” into cup? did you read anything else interesting about her on wikipedia?

what did she do that was so impressive that you hoped she would land with a solid cup team?

11/06/2009 11:36 PM

Money hungry attention whore. And then there’s Danica. What a pair NA$CAR and her will make. Maybe she can teach JJ how to stomp down pit road after his loss of attention. That will give him some personality.
And Don Mei, who the hell refers to a stock car as a “7 LITRE”. Next will be that fuel injection crap.

11/07/2009 12:36 AM

Nascar needs a female driver, or three, who comes to through the ranks with the sole intent of being in Nascar. That will generate real, long-term interest from new and old fans alike.

Don Mei
11/09/2009 09:26 AM

Guess they never taught the metric system where you went to school mkrcr. :)


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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