The Frontstretch: Danica Hype A Symbol Of Where It's At Today by Kurt Smith -- Thursday November 12, 2009

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Danica Hype A Symbol Of Where It's At Today

Kurt Smith · Thursday November 12, 2009

 

With Danica Patrick likely to race in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports next season, NASCAR can partially exhale knowing that they can declare their diversity efforts to finally be bearing some fruit. Erin Crocker just wasn’t going to get it done there.

But with that selection comes a simple question: Why her?

At face value, Patrick is a better driver than most give her credit for. The surface comparisons to Anna Kournikova — hot female athlete with marginal ability — are not without merit, but they aren’t quite accurate. Danica finished fifth in the IRL standings this year. Each season, she has done better than in the previous one.

So it isn’t so much that she’s overrated as a race car driver. She isn’t A.J. Foyt… but she doesn’t stink at it, either.

That said, there is no heavy-breathing desire on any NASCAR team’s part to pursue Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Ryan Briscoe, or Helio Castroneves, all of whom are far more accomplished than Patrick in the IRL. Kanaan is Patrick’s teammate at Andretti-Green Racing, so presumably they race in close to equal equipment. He’s won six races to Danica’s one in the last three seasons. Dario Franchitti, whose foray into NASCAR was brief and unmarked by achievement, won a championship with Andretti-Green in 2007.

Open-wheel drivers far better than Patrick have tried NASCAR and mostly failed. Franchitti is the best example. Granted, none of the recent open-wheel entrants into NASCAR drove for Hendrick Motorsports or for one of its tentacles. But Sam Hornish, Jr. and Scott Speed thus far have not even challenged to be the top performers on their own teams, a level of success that Franchitti also failed to reach during his stint in NASCAR. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only exception, and it took him a couple of years to start running well with the big boys. Based on history, Patrick’s prospects would look bleak in NASCAR.

Danica Patrick isn’t as overrated as some NASCAR fans want to believe, but her appeal to NASCAR still has to do with how she looks. And as Kurt Smith explains, that’s just the way it is today.

So there’s a fair conclusion to draw from this. NASCAR wants Danica, teams want Danica, and sponsors want Danica — not because she’s the best Indy Car racer out there, not because she’s female even, but because she looks great in a swimsuit.

In a perfect world, there would be minority and female drivers who fought their way into the top series of NASCAR by becoming worthy race car drivers on their own, not because NASCAR selected them to be in a special training program or because they sold Sports Illustrated swimsuit specials. Danica doesn’t seem to have a problem being better known for her curves than for how she navigates them, but somehow I don’t think female drivers trying to work their way through the auto racing ranks would like the idea that they can’t have any body fat or stringy hair if they want to make it in NASCAR.

You would think sports would be different from Hollywood in that regard. In reality, it isn’t. A team needs sponsorship to race, and drivers like Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. unquestionably bring it. Kyle Busch may be a better race car driver than either of them, but there isn’t any question whom you’d rather have on your team from a strictly business standpoint. Junior and Danica are moneymaking machines. Of course teams are going to pursue them, no matter what their results on the track.

So reality being what it is, what’s bothersome is that fields are featuring more and more drivers who are there not because of their skills in piloting a race car but because of their skills in bringing along a sponsor. Paul Menard is a better driver than his results have been showing, but he isn’t as good as some of the unknowns that are struggling to get full-time rides in the Nationwide Series. Casey Mears is a super nice guy, but that someone with his career numbers is continually offered rides with high-profile teams is baffling.

The Nationwide Series itself is suffering from this affliction. In the end, the funding dictates who races on the track, so Nationwide becomes Cup Lite, with sponsors almost as willing to take a chance on an unknown as a big market radio station is willing to play a song that we haven’t already heard two billion times. (Honestly, if I have to hear “Born To Be Wild” one more time…) Full-time Cup drivers run away with minor league championships while aspiring talents languish unseen, unfunded, and unnoticed in inferior equipment.

It’s a nice little Catch-22 — you need to be proven to get a sponsor, but you need to get a sponsor to have a chance to prove yourself. Sometimes, even that isn’t good enough. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about Scott Wimmer and how he is struggling to even keep a Nationwide ride despite the fact that he was holding his own with the Cup drivers when he had the equipment. You can bet Danica will never have any such difficulty, though, no matter how many times she finishes 30th.

At least the situation improved slightly this year, to the point where we’re seeing some promising young talent in the Nationwide Series for the first time in awhile… drivers like Kelly Bires and Justin Allgaier are starting to get some respect out there. But JR Motorsports would take that progress a step back putting Danica in the No. 5. There are plenty of qualified stock car drivers who have paid their dues and are worthy of a competitive ride.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Being sponsor-friendly, which means either winning a lot or being non-controversial (or both, in the case of drivers like Jimmie Johnson), needs to be part of the package for a driver to succeed in racing — but should it be this large a part of it?

Patrick will get a quality ride in the Nationwide Series thanks to her SI swimsuit spread, but in the end she’s going to have to perform to hold fans’ interest. The racetrack is still the arena where one is measured and rewarded solely on ability (except for when 11 drivers have their points upgraded to match the leader) — not for bouncy hair, nice eyes, or smooth skin. At least for now.

One wonders if NASCAR will make insidious rule changes in an effort to help another marketable driver who will probably not succeed right away. But even if they don’t, the pursuit of Danica demonstrates that it’s more about the show than the racing anymore, anyway. Why not give her a hand up? Maybe have a “fan vote” to determine the polesitter each Saturday. Sort of the same principle, isn’t it?

The bottom line is another open-wheel star is coming to NASCAR without working through the ranks, following basically the same path that many better drivers have — ultimately to mediocrity. And that means the product on the track is being dictated by people who, in fact, know very little about auto racing — except that Danica Patrick unzipping herself is hot.

Remember, it’s a show.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Think the championship battle has gotten interesting? Jimmie’s now up by 73 points, which means, as good as the No. 48 cars have been and still are, that Mark Martin is going to have to more or less finish top 5 at Phoenix and Homestead and Jimmie will have to falter once more. Not insurmountable, but I’d say pretty unlikely.
  • First Eddie D’Hondt, and now Tony Stewart. Some of these guys actually think we have enough influence to brainwash the world of racing fans into thinking the racing of late is boring. If I had that much pull, the Chase would already be a distant memory. Heck, I don’t even really think the racing is that bad, at least not when the tour is at Martinsville, Dover, or even Pocono. What does NASCAR hope to achieve by blaming the press? The same swing of public opinion now enjoyed by the president after blaming FOX News for his popularity slide?
  • I have been reading that Brian France didn’t even watch all of the Talladega race, which is amusing more than anything else. I’d only be interested in knowing why he chose not to watch it. Couldn’t he get it on the Internet like everyone else not watching on TV? OK, I’m piling on; I’ll quit now.
  • Great that someone won a million dollars from Kurt Busch’s win last weekend. That his running out of fuel helped a guy out ought to cheer Kyle up a bit.

Contact Kurt Smith

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Bad Wolf
11/13/2009 01:03 AM
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I’m so glad Danica is bringing her “Brand” over to Nascar. I hear DW is changing his BBB to Danica Danica Danica, lets go racin!!!!

Sal
11/13/2009 07:00 AM
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I had no idea that the media mind control was so good! Honestly, how much more can Nascar insult us fans? Do they really believe that we are too stupid to form our own opinions? Perhaps treating the fans they depend on to keep them is business like village idiots is part of the reason so many of us are finding other ways to spend our Sunday afternoons.

Freddie the Freeloader
11/13/2009 07:53 AM
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Who cares about Danica? I mean really? If she was that good of a driver her merits would be based on her on track performance and not how much cleavage she shows during commercials.
All it is more NA$CRAP Cool Aid Hype being thrust down the throats of the fans. The only help she is going to provide NA$CRAP, is helping it slide faster down the slippery slope of disaster.

Wow think about this, it took Big Bill France and Brian France Sr. 50+ Years to build NASCAR into a legitimate Sport recognized on it’s own merits. But it only took Brian France Jr. 5 years to totally destroy the sport and turn it into a freaking Circus Sideshow pandering to 13 year old prepubescent and 20 some year old XBox playing Losers. Thank God for the local dirt tracks, at least true race fans can still go some where to watch real racing.
Brain France or Bozo the Clown who could tell the difference….Oh that’s right, Bozo is the one drinking water.

The Turnip!
11/13/2009 08:57 AM
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In NA$CRAP, it is all about marketability, NOT talent! (and I am not saying Danica does not have talent, please).

Pass the screen test, get a ride! Bring sponsors, get a ride! Bring money making potential, get a ride!

And oh yeh, NA$CRAP’S “DIVERSITY” program is working well, getting (stealing) a “diverse” driver with an established name FROM ANOTHER SERIES/ORGANIZATION!

Thought the “diversity program” was to create their OWN driver!

Well, what do I know?

Actually Danica getting a ride in NA$CRAP is proof positive the NA$CRAP “diversity program”, is a FLOP!

Kinda like their racing!

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/13/2009 09:07 AM
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the funniest part is bad wolf and turnip will be right on front of the tv lapping it up too.

SLURP SLURP!!!!!!!

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/13/2009 09:11 AM
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oh and one other thing. what the @#$% does brian france or nascar have anything to do with danica patrick coming to race for jr motorsports?

Don Mei
11/13/2009 09:27 AM
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Its really rather simple; Nascar’s ratings are down, their serious fan base is eroding and the “new wave” fans they so desperately want have moved on to the next in thing. Danica is an attractive woman, a reasonably competent driver and will generate enormous publicity for Nascar in the short run, even if she doesnt succeed. Do you really think they care about anything else?

The Turnip!
11/13/2009 10:15 AM
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Hey NASCAR CRUSADER!

Are you really serious?

Your “oh and one other thing. what the @#$% does brian france or nascar have anything to do with danica patrick coming to race for jr motorsports?”

It’s economics 101!

How can one make such a statement?

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/13/2009 10:37 AM
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so turnip you’re saying nascar signed danica to a deal? what a tool.

nascar has nothing to do with it. it is between danica’s people and the individual teams she is speaking with.

wah!!!!!!! nascar is bringing danica over!!!!!! wah!!!!!!!! cry me a @#$%^&* river. nascar doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Don Mei
11/13/2009 10:50 AM
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NC, if you dont think Nascar isnt salivating at the thought of Danica driving in Nascar, I’ve got a bridge I would like to sell you. Quite frankly It wouldn’t surprise me if they are helping to underwrite whatever deal she works out. N’est-ce pas?

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/13/2009 11:02 AM
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there is no doubt they would be thrilled to have danica. but for you dopes to insuate that nascar is “bringing” her over takes your nonsense to a new low.

Joe W.
11/13/2009 11:33 AM
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O.K. this has been pointed out before but I will point it out again. Juan Pablo Montoya is not the most successful driver to come from open wheel to Nascar. Tony Stewart did it better than anyone has. He is a two time Champion. Danica has talked to Tony and it sounds as if she is using the same strategy that he used in his change over. Do I think Danica will be the next Tony Stewart? No, I don’t think so. But I never thought a guy with one Busch series win, and it on fuel mileage to boot, would ever be a great Cup racer and he is now going for his 4th Cup title in a row. So, you just never know.

Don Mei
11/13/2009 12:00 PM
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My, my NC. To call people who disagree with you “dopes” is to exhibit a churlishness beneath any further rational discussion. Have a good life you rude, boorish bozo!

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/13/2009 12:16 PM
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donny,

i wasn’t calling you a dope because you disagree me. i was calling you a dope because you believe nascar is playing a role behind the scenes with bringing danica to jr motorsports.

do you believe in santa too?

Don Mei
11/13/2009 12:51 PM
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Sure do; and the Easter Bunny and Great Pumpkin too!!!Have fun deluding yourself about the economic realities in contemporary American motorsports.

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/13/2009 12:59 PM
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i will. and continue to sit in front of the tv every sunday and lap up everything nascar feeds you.

slurp slurp….

Allen Davi
11/13/2009 01:49 PM
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I’m not sure what you’re listening to or reading but on Eddie D’Hondt’s Voice America radio show he continuously raves about how great the racing is. He may have prematurely called the champ winner this year but you might want to do better homework before you slander people. In addition, he works with ladies in stock car racing that deserve to move up in Nascar and don’t have sponsors handed to them.

janice
11/13/2009 01:50 PM
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just goes to prove, it’s all about the $$$$$$$. danica will crash and burn. if i were shana robinson or patty moise, i’d be highly offended at this article. they tried, patty ran busch series for a while. shana well she had problems with her “relationships” with various members of teams in the garage.

maybe the weekends danica is at track it will divert the spotlight away from jr and his performance. i guess danica will run arca and nationwide race in feb at daytona?

Kurt Smith - Frontstretch Staff
11/13/2009 02:23 PM
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Just clearing a couple of points:

Crusader Guy – Regarding NASCAR having a hand in bringing Danica over, I never suggested anything of the kind was happening. But I agree with the commenters who say NASCAR is drooling at the idea.

Joe W. – I knew someone was going to bring up Tony Stewart. I chose my words carefully, note that I used the word “recent” in that paragraph. I am well aware that the switch has been done, I’m just saying it hasn’t happened lately, which is true.

Allen, sorry if I wasn’t clear about D’Hondt. He recently took Richard Allen to task for being too negative about NASCAR. I wrote about that in a recent column, that’s what I was referring to, and Tony Stewart recently said the media was being too negative too, or something like that. My mistake for not making that clearer.

midasmicah
11/13/2009 03:24 PM
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New slogan for nas$crap regarding Danica. “Drive a$$ on Sunday, sell a$$ on Monday”

The Turnip!
11/13/2009 06:54 PM
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And once again for NC,

HOLY CRAP!

Don’t think for an INSTANT! That NA$CRAP wouldn’t do WHATEVER it takes to have a team sign Danica! Hell, NA$CRAP takes sponsors from teams to get the money to do tricks like that!

With the glorious Jr. failing the grade, NA$CRAP needs SOMETHING to hang their hats on, or in this case, BRA’S!

And it would be much easier to understand you if you actually every once in a while made sense!

Kinda like that old saying about having a battle of the wits!

Make sure one does not come half-armed!

mkrcr
11/13/2009 11:05 PM
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NASCAR CRUSADER, isn’t it funny how people change there handles when they’ve been kicked off so many websites. And they still continue with the same demeaning crap that got them kicked off in the first place. I know there are lots of names to hide behind in the dictionary, but the style is always the same. Gotta comment and slam right after someone posts. You’re so large.

FunkyD
11/14/2009 09:47 AM
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Chrissy Wallace has more potential to succeed in NA$CAR than Danica, too bad she is struggling for sponsorship. She’s ran well in all the truck races she’s entered.

NASCAR CRUSADER
11/14/2009 10:07 AM
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turnip,

you’re more responsible for dringing danica to nascar than nascar is. the teams are owned and operated independant from nascar despite what you may think. nascar has nothing to do with what driver signs with what team.

the problem is you. if you and all your friends here didn’t sit glued to the tv every sunday and then spend every single day on these nascar related sites the sport wouldn’t be as big as it is today and in turn danica wouldn’t be interested in coming to nascar.

try and take a break just for a day. i bet you can do it. i bet you can’t go one full day without discussing and buzzing about nascar.

Old Skool Aid
11/14/2009 01:01 PM
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NASCAR CRUSADER, take a look at the stands and check out the ratings. I think guys like Turnip are tuning out and not glued to the tv like you think.

Contact Kurt Smith