NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: What Are They Buying With the Danica Patrick Hype?

Where I live in South Jersey, you will occasionally see billboards for upcoming races at Dover International Speedway. A few days ago I drove by one with Danica Patrick’s face plastered on the billboard even larger that the words “Dover International Speedway.” It’s the first time I can recall either of two things happening: a Nationwide race being advertised on a billboard, and a driver being mentioned on a billboard for an upcoming event. I’m not saying that it’s never happened, just that I haven’t seen it.

All this for a driver whose best finish in six races is 24th. Who has yet to finish a race even as much as one lap down.

Google “Danica Patrick” and the first thing that will appear on your computer screen are eight photos, or at least that’s what showed up on my screen. Two of them show her in a firesuit, one shows her undressing out of a firesuit with little on underneath, and the rest show her in various types of lingerie. It’s hard to know whether she’s a racecar driver or a supermodel posing as one.

Patrick has as much right to try to make it in NASCAR as anyone. She has every right to struggle and finish poorly until she gets the hang of it, especially if she can bring in the sponsorship. You could make the same argument for John Wes Townley. Racing is not a perfect world and teams need sponsors. But what, exactly, are NASCAR and ESPN and venues trying to buy by shoving a less than mediocre driver down every racing fan’s throat?

I can’t think of an athlete in history with a higher ratio of hype to performance. Watching Danica try to race in NASCAR is like watching Michael Jordan try to play baseball. Her lack of qualification for this level is so patently obvious it’s embarrassing.

But to listen to networks and tracks, you’d think she was the next Dale Earnhardt. ESPN even went so far one race as to show that Danica had moved from 31st to third place in X number of laps—when the rest of the field was cycling through pit stops. As if she had been charging through the field—and somehow a broadcast that featured a Danica update every half a lap missed it!

Are things so bad in NASCAR that instead of promoting the resurgence of Richard Childress, or the battle between Hendrick teammates to be the first to reach five championships, or the sleeper status of Jeff Burton, or the possibility of the Busch brothers battling for a title, we’re getting sensory overload of a driver whose biggest qualification is how well she fits into a skimpy bikini?

If the racing is “better than it’s ever been” as NASCAR keeps insisting, why focus so intently on a driver who isn’t even performing well in a minor-league series? What part of Patrick’s appeal has anything at all to do with what she can do in a racecar?

Yes, and here I am writing an article about it. I get the irony, or hypocrisy I suppose you could call it. But trust me; I’m not going to gain anything financially from this piece, short or long term. What I don’t get is once NASCAR milks Danica for all she’s worth and then some beyond the point of fatigue, then what?

Tracks and networks fret about losing so many Little E fans due to his lack of on-track success. You’d think they’d learn something from that. Yet they are again willing to put all of their ratings and attendance eggs into the basket for a driver far less skilled than Junior.

Either two things are going to happen here. Patrick is going to keep putting up lousy results with the whole world watching, or she’s going to put up a top-10 finish at a place like Talladega and the presses will stop as far as Mars.

I’m betting on the former. Danica is not likely to improve much with her current commitment. Stock car racing isn’t something one dabbles in while pursuing a full time open-wheel career. It’s very difficult to excel at a part-time gig. Not with something as all-consuming as racing that is competitive enough to be on television every weekend.

And at some point television and tracks are going to have to find something else to promote. And judging from the way Patrick is slobbered over, I’m guessing NASCAR is becoming a real problem child for them. Heck, even I don’t think the racing’s been that bad.

Hasn’t anyone noticed yet that you can’t see Danica’s sexy figure when she’s in the racecar?

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Did you ever think you would see Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart approach the end of a season where they had no full sponsorship lined up for the following year? It wasn’t that long ago that the DuPont and Home Depot cars had some spirited battles on the racetrack.
  • I have been reading about the possible changes to the Chase in 2011, and I can tell you that I stand at the ready waiting to react to the announcement of the official changes.
  • With Mark Martin out of the playoffs, it’s one less good story in a sport that doesn’t seem to have many of them these days. But hey, at least Junior’s been running better.
  • The Chase field is pretty much set, leaving only the win being anything of importance at Richmond. Meaning that maybe drivers will try and pass each other and stuff. Maybe we’ll see a good one.

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