The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: Being For the Benefit of Ms. D Patrick by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday March 4, 2010

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MPM2Nite: Being For the Benefit of Ms. D Patrick

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday March 4, 2010

 

For those who have been caught up in the tidal wave of hype and ignored the facts after this weekend’s Nationwide race, Ms. Danica Patrick will be taking a four month break from taxicab racing to return to her day job wheeling glorified go-karts in IndyCar in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of fans who still enjoy the maggot-riddled corpse of the once proud premiere open-wheel racing series in America. (For the Danica-maniacs, Ms. Patrick will return in late June at NHIS.)

Now, I cannot imagine any driver, especially one in NASCAR’s AAA series, garnering as much attention as Ms. Patrick has in her three-race busman’s holiday. To rival that coverage, Dale Earnhardt the Original would have to rise from the dead, take five gold medals at the Olympics, and return to win three straight races by more than a lap with Pamela Anderson tied naked to his hood. And even that might not be enough. Some blame the media for latching onto the story like a meth-addicted terrier grabbing onto a rat, but Ms. Patrick’s own marketing people have been positively Machiavellian in orchestrating the coverage of this comely brunette. Were she to have developed a yeast infection, the coverage might have overshadowed the Olympics.

Not all of Ms. Patrick’s invasion has been negative. Certainly, she has directed more eyeballs towards the flat screens during her brief sojourn into NASCAR racing. That can only be seen as a positive thing given the struggles of the second-tier series on TV over the last few seasons. Hopefully, some of those attracted to the sport by Mommy GoDaddy kept watching the races after she crashed out or went laps down, and saw that the Nationwide Series does, in fact, provide some compelling racing and interesting finishes. With Nationwide going against the Olympics, the attention was certainly welcome, keeping ratings relatively stable (unlike the Cup side). But the experiment was less successful in putting paying butts in seats, as witnessed by the weak crowds at the Vegas and Fontana Nationwide races – although I’m told Ms. Patrick was paid quite well (ludicrously well) to plant her butt in the seat of that race car.

Patrick’s good finish in the ARCA race at Daytona set tongues to wagging. Neophytes to the sport might not have realized that given the team backing her in that event, she might as well have been hunting chipmunks in a nature preserve with an M16. But that good finish led some pundits to loudly predict a top 10 finish in that week’s Nationwide race – one that was added to her schedule quicker than most GoDaddy girls can disrobe.

After a relatively unsuccessful stint in stock cars, Danica Patrick now returns to IndyCar until the end of June.

To an extent, I was impressed by both Patrick’s poise in front of the camera and her maturity behind the wheel. If she wasn’t up to speed, at least she was able to calmly and rationally communicate to her crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. what the car was doing and what she needed it to do to advance her position. Given Eury’s experience with another high-profile driver who could only curse the car and add such helpful insights as, “I couldn’t keep this car inside a forty acre briar patch,” that had to be a relief for the team. It seemed eventually Ms. Patrick began to adopt the NASCAR car mindset. The car isn’t going to handle like an open-wheeler. It’s never going to be perfect, and that doesn’t matter. You just need to be better than the cars you’re trying to pass.

On the other hand, some lessons that seem obvious took Ms. Patrick some time to learn. First and foremost amongst them, when the yellow flag flies and those obnoxiously bright yellow caution lights start blinking around the track, it behooves a driver who wishes to finish the race to lift off the gas. In certain instances, such as when cars are spinning around you in a blinding cloud of smoke, a driver might even want to depress the pedal in the center which experienced drivers have learned deploys the brakes and causes the car to slow down. If one’s spotter is screaming “low, low, low” certainly that opinion should be taken into consideration given his vantage point, even if the final decision is still to drive down the middle of the track and hit stuff. Perhaps Ms. Patrick was waiting for a yellow light on her dash to illuminate, as it would in an IndyCar to start using some caution (and brakes.)

Again, in the IRL car a speed limiting button that is pressed entering and leaving the pits keeps drivers from exceeding pit road speed limits. In NASCAR, drivers have to use that mysterious brake pedal and keep an eye on the tach to calculate speed. Certainly there’s no reason for a car already laps down to speed entering or leaving pit road to advance her position.

Obviously, the most controversial part of Danica’s brief flirtation with stock car racing can’t be laid entirely at her feet. The media has overblown this would-be-story more completely out of proportion than the dangers of swine flu. And I, for one, am sick of it. There are other new teams and drivers (including some female drivers) who are also trying to make a name for themselves. Those drivers need some recognition, as do the sponsors who are supporting their fledgling efforts at big time racing. The fact their sponsors can’t afford incessant soft-core porn ads during commercial breaks to support their driver should not overshadow their effort and achievements. Frankly, I find those GoDaddy ads completely inappropriate for a sport that promotes itself as “family friendly”.

Hopefully, with Ms. Patrick returning to her full-time gig for awhile, ESPN will be able to put some focus on other young drivers and full-time Nationwide teams trying to compete against the carpet-bagging Cup regulars, as the series needs those drivers and organization to survive and hopefully one day prosper again. If even a small percentage of those attracted to Saturday’s races by Ms. Patrick’s freak show continue tuning in, it’s important to hook them with other compelling stories of young people trying to make their way in a sport with a steep learning curve where expenses have far outstripped available sponsorship resources. When Mark Martin, the winningest driver ever in NASCAR’s AAA series, states on TV that he’d love to race some more Saturday events if he could just find sponsorship, you know something is badly askew akin to a cosmic rift in the universe. And I haven’t seen one of those since that night I left the Dead concert in Providence back in 1981.

The drive for diversity in NASCAR is a noble goal. Any child, no matter which gender, which race, or what background they come from, should be able to dream of one day being a star driver in any NASCAR division. But we live in a very different world then the one an old guy like me grew up in. On my first trip to Atlanta I recall vividly (and with a good deal of shock and revulsion, having recently learned to read) signs that said restrooms were for whites only. Today, the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world is black. (And I know I’m wading into the swamp of politics here; half of you like the man and half of you loathe him, according to the polls, but hear me out.)

When I was growing up, the only place you saw working women was at the doctor’s office or the department store. Most women were expected to raise children and keep house. (Was there ever a more enslaving Christmas gift than the Betty Crocker EZ-Bake oven?) Today, a woman is speaker of the House of Representatives and seemingly raises nothing but Hell. The Supreme Court of the United States, arguably the most powerful and important branch of our government since it keeps the other two branches from trampling the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms our forefathers passed on to us, is composed not just of old white Protestant guys but Blacks, Hispanics, Women, and Catholics. This is a lot better world than I experienced when I was four years old visiting Atlanta.

But in this brave new world we live in, it’s time for people to stop looking for a handout. It doesn’t matter if you were born in the ghetto or into abject poverty in the Appalachians, you can succeed if you work hard and believe in yourself. It’s been proven and documented. And it doesn’t matter if you can write your name in the snow or if you have to squat to pee; if you want to be a race car driver, you can be. Early in NASCAR’s history, women routinely ran competitively in the big leagues. If the sport got to be a men’s club for awhile, Ms. Patrick is strolling through doors women like Janet Guthrie kicked in decades ago. If I were a female (and that’s a frightening thought, for those who know what I look like) frankly I’d be insulted by the message Ms. Patrick and her sponsor are sending towards female drivers of the future.

Well Danica, you don’t have to put your makeup on and fix your hair up pretty to meet us tonight in NASCAR city. You don’t have to tear your shirt off at the slightest provocation to get a sponsor. If you want to race, race. Start in the hobby stocks, work your way up to the late models, and then the Truck and Nationwide series. And if you’re fast and you’re lucky, not only will you not see that hanging tree, Ms. Dalton, maybe you’ll make it to the Big Leagues. You don’t need breast enhancement surgery to make it. You just need to win some races. When you do, thank your sponsors, show some emotion, and give us a bit of personality to let us know you weren’t biologically engineered in the Stepford Ladies Racing Labs.

For now, at least, female drivers are a bit of novelty in the sport. There was a time when drivers from the Northeast or Midwest were a bit of a novelty as well in a sport dominated by Southerners. They weren’t always welcome, but guys like Fred Lorenzen proved they could do the job back in the days of yore. So all this focus on Danica Patrick is nothing less than reverse discrimination, a really well-compensated affirmative action job.

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Patrick’s NASCAR racing career to date hasn’t lived up to the hype. It might have been impossible for her to do so even if she won all three races. Three races isn’t enough time to decide if Danica can succeed in this form of racing, but my gut tells me racing NASCAR is like learning to swim. You’ve got to dive into the deep end, not dangle your toes in the water. So as long as Patrick wishes to keep her IRL gig and dabbles at NASCAR, I think she’s in for a nine-mile skid on a ten mile ride. She’ll be back in June and we’ll see. In the meantime, heaven help any other rookie driver who tried to garner some attention by doing something meaningless like winning a race once she returns.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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DansMom
03/04/2010 07:24 AM
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JPM and Danica have the same number of top 10 finishes in the Nationwide Series = 0. Montoya struggled for years on the Cup level before he was considered (by some) a contender in the Cup Series outside of Road Courses. It takes time.

Danica is a good looking driver. So? Last time I checked that wasn’t a crime. Check out the cougars at Kasey Kahne’s hauler. (Something he seems to embrace if his commercials are any indication.) And Carl Edward’s topless pose for Men’s Health, that brought quite a bit of popularity to the sport from the female persuasion.

And give Danica’s commercials a break. This is coming from the columnist who ranks every race with a 6-pack of beer and over the past week has documented many an alchohol related incident. I hope there is no one under the age of 21 who reads this column! – Oh wait I forgot… “web content is unrated”

janice
03/04/2010 08:39 AM
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hum…..there’s still a lot of people who think the way they did when you were 4 visiting atlanta. i know cause i live here. sure the world has changed, but in some places it stayed the same or regressed.

Bob
03/04/2010 11:10 AM
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Good reading, Matt. Insightful and dead on in your assessment of Danica-mania. Other young and potentially up-and-coming drivers deserve their mention on the air and in print too. But those stories don’t make $$$ to the suits in the booth, so we don’t hear much about them. Thanks for scribes like yourself who stand up for them with a mention online.

Carl D.
03/04/2010 11:36 AM
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I actually agree with DansMom again. In fact I’d give her comment four frigid cans of Miller Light, which is less filling but tastes great.

I wonder if Danica likes beer?

Gordon82Wins
03/04/2010 12:07 PM
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When Danica breaks the top 30, she’ll be worth a hundredth of the coverage she’s getting.

Don Mei
03/04/2010 01:22 PM
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Personally, I prefer an AK47 for chipmunks: better trajectory. As to open wheel-racing itself, had it not been for the stupidity of one Tony George (think of him as the Brian France of open wheel but with better teeth) tearing CART apart in 1996 or thereabouts, NASCAR would still be playing second fiddle. Check the mid 90’s ratings oh ye of little faith.

pepper
03/04/2010 01:31 PM
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Sure you’re not gender biased. A yeast infection????? You just insulted every woman who reads your articles.

*Raceinsider*
03/04/2010 01:32 PM
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Cuteness notwithstanding … Danica Patrick is NOT ready for Sprint Cup … NOT ready for Nationwide Cup … MAYBE ready for ARCA. People … she has 1, that is ONE win in her illustrious (sic) career. IF she didn’t look good in a wet t-shirt, no one would have given her a second look at anything above soap box derby racing. Come on Danica-tics … GET REAL.!! Danica-mania is over for now. She needs to pay her dues as much if not more than any guy trying to move up in the ranks. Give her some time, she may be ok … NOT !!
Opinions always welcome. 8^)

Bad Wolf
03/04/2010 01:59 PM
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You know that Nascar has jumped the shark when the resort to gimmicks and hype to fill the seats.

How much hype and airtime did JPM get when he first came over to Nascar compared to Danica? JPM has won the International F3000 championship in 1998, Cart series Championship in 1999 (his rookie year)the Indy 500, 24 hours of Daytona, Monaco Grand Prix and has raced in F1, Cart, Indy Car, Grand Am and Nascar. I remember he got plenty of airtime, comenserate with his racing background, and a lot of time spent by Nascar in a quest for Hispanic fans ( Which I don’t get since he is Columbian)but nothing like the all out media blitz we have with Danica.

Danica won ONE exibition race in Japan on fuel mileage with only half the regular series drivers there.

Don, your right about open wheel back in the early ’90s. I used to be at the Indy 500 each year during those days and it was the premiere event in motor sports. I followed open wheel back then with the same zeal I had for Nascar, with my weekends spent watching the up and comers on Saturday in the Bush series, then taping open wheel while watching Nascar and watching it later. Back then Open Wheel was King and it had a heart and soul it is missing now. I keep hoping they can revive it and bring it back to it’s former glory.

Matt, when I used to get tickets for Vegas they would throw in Saturdays for free with the Cup. If that’s still the case it is very telling on the health of the Nationwide series with all the empty seats on Saturday.

Beau
03/04/2010 02:11 PM
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Agree w/ pepper. I didn’t make it past the ‘yeast infection’ quip. Someone needs to grow up a little.

janice
03/04/2010 02:54 PM
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males also get yeast infections. just not as common.

janice
03/04/2010 02:59 PM
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madame patrick ran well in arca race cause of attrition. it was survival. also, her equipment outclassed everyone else. i remember the times when kerry earnhardt ran arca races, he was up front or won. put her in equal equipment that norm benning prepared out of his shop and see how she would have ran.

i guess cause no nationwide race at atlanta espn can fixate on something else danica does this week/weekend.

Mike
03/04/2010 03:42 PM
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I agree that the coverage is over the top, and I have nothing against her. Someone made a lame comparison to Ashley Force in a previous column. Ashley was in contention for the Funny Car title last season – finishing second. She has 3 wins in 13 final round appearances. She also has 5 TAD wins in 9 final round appearances. You can argue that its superior equipment – but, she still has to be at least 16th fastest each week to get a shot.

That said, I can’t say I ever recall seeing on the ESPN crawl that Ashley lost in the second round, during a basketball game.

We can blame a lot of entities for the oversaturation of Danica; but, lets not forget NASCAR’s ‘TV partners’…

Oh – I was mortified by Michael McDowell profusely apologizing for not getting out of her way at Vegas. If that accident were to happen on the freeway, she would have been the vehicle behind – shouldn’t she be more aware of him in that case?

I guess it doesn’t matter that there were only 18 drivers in the 08 Japan 300 that she won – it was a ponts paying race, so a win. But, until she notches a couple more wins against full fields, I think of her as racing’s Anna Kournikova.

Michael
03/04/2010 05:04 PM
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The word that best describes this column is rambling . GEEEZZ Matt , have a thought and stick with it .
Danica was overhyped because of you and every other “ journalist “ on Earth being in heat over the thought of a very pretty lady coming over from that lesser series to the great NASCAR .
She did well . Unless she finished last , she beat a number of series regulars . Best equipment ? I don’t know about best , certainly good , but as Jr. shows us EVERY week , great equipment doesn’t equal great finishes .
And speaking of overhype , lets go back to the constant handwringing over the debut of Sam Hornish . Every race it was “ when will he prove himself “ . ‘Hes in Penske cars , when will he win “ ? Or my favorite from that dufus DW , “ Sam is gonna have to win this year or hes finished “ . Or how about the non stop Dario coverage . And Danica is far better looking , so what exactly did you expect .
And heres a little experiment for you Matt . If you got tired of hearing Danica’s name , then you must be ready to kill yourself over the constant mention of Johnson . Go back to any of Danica’s stock car races and count the number of times she was on screen or talked about . Then tell me how many times the 48 car , and driver , and crew chief , and car owner were on screen or being talked about during the Daytona 500 . A race where Johnson was no factor whatsoever . You’ll find the result is Johnson in a landslide . Or try the same experiment with Gordon or Earnhardt Jr. at any race . Same results . Danica’s coverage seems tame by comparison .

leedanielson
03/04/2010 05:45 PM
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I’m noticing that more and more media sites that don’t toe the nas$car company line are disappearing. Even some writers who were critical of nas$car in the past are becoming apologists nowdays. I just hope the frontstretch keeps doing it’s job and remains objective about what happening in the sport, not wear rose colored glasses like the shills others in the sport have become. I love racing, but the condecending attitude the major media sites have toward racing fans makes me want to vomit. The Danica coverage is just one example of this “affliction”. Keep up the good work dudes.

DisgruntledFan99
03/04/2010 10:03 PM
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DansMom Montoya won Mexico City road course race in 2007 in Nationwide. :)

mkrcr
03/04/2010 10:04 PM
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I’ve got one cure for you Danica. Come on up here and sit your A*S in one of our Late Models in the bullring on Saturday night. You wanna bring your “brand”, go for it, but it won’t amount to a hill of beans when these real stock car drivers get done with you. Pay your dues, learn to swim with the sharks and, if you don’t become chum, then maybe you’ll garner some respect. You’ll never gain that by leapfrogging more qualified talent because of your connections and certainly not by being the flash in the pan you’re destined to be.

rftech01
03/06/2010 08:09 AM
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Ratings are down, track attendance is failing and I counted dozens of Vacancy signs on the beachside in Daytona this year, the first I can remember this happening. Meanwhile Nascar’s fine leadership is trying to find Gimmics like the “Fan Deck” on the backstretch to entice greater participation instead of allowing drivers to be racers. What to do with Danica Patrick? How about Nascar forcing all drivers to race “Topless” with mandatory cautions every few laps. I’m sure the guys wouldn’t care and think about Driver Introductions. It would bring a new audience to the track.