Jesse Medford · Thursday May 10, 2012
Why does NASCAR even care about Danica Patrick? The fans don’t care! Based on ticket sales and television ratings, she obviously isn’t bringing new fans to the sport at a rate faster than the old guard are leaving. Why then is everybody hyping her up so much? Why are they shoving her down our throats all race long and giving her interviews normally reserved for the top finishing drivers? Why are we writing about her?
Many internet based writers have said they write about what will get their publication the most page views. I am writing about Patrick because it was either her or writing about Bojangles’. You could argue that I made an internet page view decision. Or maybe it was just pure laziness. I could always save that dryer topic of Bojangles’ for a publication that has a broader appeal outside of racing.
But for here, ranting about Patrick flows on a keyboard and I have a deadline to meet.
Since finishing 38th place during her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the 2012 Daytona 500, Patrick’s No. 10 has been occupied by Tommy Baldwin Racing’s David Reutimann. All that anybody has mentioned about that organization since, is would TBR have the car in the Top 35 of the owner’s standings for Stewart-Haas Racing by Darlington, to ensure that Patrick could race in her second of ten scheduled Sprint Cup events, without having to attempt to qualify on speed.
Do we care about this because she is a good race car driver? Is it because she is entertaining? Do we really think she is needed to bring a new fan base to the sport?
I don’t think she is good at any of those things. However, NASCAR and race promoters don’t think like I do.
Darlington Raceway hypes the fact that Patrick will join Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson as the only women to race in the Sprint Cup level at their track. Promoters also believe she is the key to selling tickets and gaining viewers. The race commercials that I have seen for both races this weekend only promote Patrick.
And during the race, we won’t hear much about anyone else either.
That is provided Patrick is even still on the track after the early goings. After all, Darlington Raceway gets her Lady In Black moniker because she scares drivers into hitting the wall, resulting in what is known as the Darlington Stripe.
“I got my first Darlington Stripe back when the Truck Series raced there,” Reutimann said in a BK Racing press release. “The whole time in practice I was really, really tentative.”
This historic 1.25-mile superspeedway isn’t known as The Track Too Tough To Tame for nothing. It gets into a driver’s head.
“I’m told it’s not going to be so much about the track and getting comfortable and getting up to speed or feeling good, that it’s going to be more about learning how to pass there and how that works because it’s one lane and one groove,” Patrick said in a Team Chevy Advance. Reading her subsequent words, she doesn’t even know what to think, let alone how to drive there. Darlington has affected her already low confidence level.
“I believe its high in one and two and low in three and four,” she said. Patrick is clearly second guessing herself when giving this statement.
Patrick wasn’t even an outstanding performer in her previous IndyCar gig of seven seasons. She was over-hyped going into the Indianapolis 500 during her rookie year of 2005. I remember learning about her just prior to that race, while I was serving in Iraq. It appeared to me that she was getting publicity based on looks alone. After the race it seemed to be shocking to those reporting that she had a chance to win the race. Everything blew up from there, resulting in just one win in the series and many disappointments.
So what does Patrick bring to NASCAR besides GoDaddy.com and their money? If that sponsor leaves, she has nothing to offer. Who else will try to market her on the sex appeal that has gotten her to where she is at now? She won’t be able to be marketed based on winning. It isn’t going to happen. Learning this type of car and racing them on these tracks seems to be more difficult for her than it is for other new drivers, two of whom outperformed her in their Nationwide Series debut at Richmond International Raceway.
Driving in NASCAR seems to be a chore for Patrick. It doesn’t look like she has any fun.
Look at what we just saw with Travis Pastrana in his debut at Richmond. He finished only one spot behind Patrick, due to a late race pit road speeding penalty, but appeared to have the car figured out a little better than the much more experienced Patrick. And he seems to be having fun and showing enthusiasm the entire time. Like Patrick, he brings a niche following to the sport, but without displaying the sense of entitlement that she carries with her. And 18 year-old rookie Ryan Blaney also blew away Patrick (and many other veterans) in his debut at that race.
Since the beginning of Patrick’s current NASCAR racing experiment, she has freaked out just about any time she perceives someone not giving her enough room on the track, leading up to this past weekend’s intentional wrecking of Sam Hornish during the cool down lap at Talledega Superspeedway, in which she later apologized. Frontstretch writer Garrett Horton explained this in detail yesterday. NASCAR chose not to penalize Patrick for this intentional hit on Hornish.
Maybe it is examples like this that NASCAR is looking for. The Sprint Cup regulars have quickly dismissed the old Boys Have At It mantra that was so popular with marketers and media. So maybe now to keep the green coming in, it will have to be Danica Have At It.
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