A View on Danica

Posted by Genna | Posted in | Posted on 12/11/2009



- by Aaron Rosser

Let me begin by saying that as a male race fan, I know I am squarely in the demographic GoDaddy.com is targeting with their sponsorship of Danica and another "man's driver," Mark Martin. I certainly find Danica attractive and have no problems with her, ahem, revealing side.

Its Danica's on-track exploits, however, that will make or break her NASCAR tryout. So that is what I'm going to talk about here...at least to begin with.

Much has been made of the over-hyping of Danica, Danicamania, etc. Indeed, one victory, a fuel-mileage win at that, does little to justify the perception among many, almost exclusively male fans that Danica is a great race car driver who could go door to door with some of NASCAR's biggest stars. At the same time, however, the belief among many fans, usually female, that she is a mediocre, untalented racer is also not supported by her record.

Her 2009 statistics are most evident of this. The IRL IndyCar Series is dominated far-and-away by the Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing juggernauts. Those teams and their totaled four drivers swept the top-four in the final points and put together a near-sweep of the entire 17-race schedule, with only Justin Wilson of the veteran Dale Coyne Racing team and Will Power in a Team Penske entry in all but name, claiming wins at Watkins Glen and Edmonton, respectively.

Finishing fifth in the final standings, ahead of three quarters of the full-time IndyCar grid, including each of her teammates, was Patrick. This "best-in-class" placement can not be ignored, though I will readily admit that it doesn't give her "Mario Andretti in the making" status, either.

There seems to be no middle ground on Danica Patrick. Either you support having her in the sport, or you wish she'd stay where she is (or fall off the planet). Like no driver to come into NASCAR in recent years, everyone has an opinion and everyone knows who Danica is. Juan Pablo Montoya has proven to be a polarizing figure since joining the sport, but prior to his stock car debut at Talladega in October of 2006, there were many NASCAR faithful who had never heard of the talented and temperamental Colombian. There is no one who counts themselves as a fan of American auto racing that hasn't heard of Danica Patrick. It would be impossible to have not heard of her. She is certainly one of the most, ahem, exposed athletes in the history of American sports marketing.

I count myself among Danica's supporters after this past summer, when it was revealed that she had sought out Tony Stewart, the greatest IndyCar-to-NASCAR success story and the man whom I claim as my favorite driver, for advice on making the switch. That showed me that, in contrast to previous rumors that led me to write an article printed in the August 2008 of issue of NASCAR Illustrated that she should remain in IndyCar, that she is serious about at least giving the stock car thing a try. If she's serious, she has my support.

In the end, though, I'm of the mind that a "wait-and-see" approach with Danica is the only way to go. It will take time for her to acclimate herself to the bigger, heavier stock cars, so the first season will be hard to use as a gauge of whether or not she will make it in NASCAR. Inevitably, however, she will no-doubt be roundly criticized as she navigates a steep learning curve which will probably feature a few wadded up GoDaddy Impalas and back-of-the-pack finishes.

Is that fair? Probably not. But perhaps Danica has brought it onto herself with her "in-your-face" media persona.

I see the best thing about Danica's move being the gradual step into NASCAR while remaining a full-time IRL competitor. That is the same platform employed by Stewart from 1996-1998 as he worked towards his switch to full-time stock car racing, and it will also give her the opportunity to keep her doors in IndyCar wide open in case the stock car experiment, and it is just that, an experiment, does not work out at all.

Most importantly, her childhood dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 (the reason I most admire Danica as a female racer) remains in her crosshairs. Though her results in the race have been topsy-turvy, her performances have improved each year. After finishing a fighting third in the 2009 race, there is plenty of reason to look at her as a potential contender to win this year's race, and if her IRL team, the newly renamed Andretti Autosport, has made the gains necessary, she along with teammates Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti could challenge the Penske-Ganassi Juggernaut. A strong season in her regular IndyCar ride would help to validate her, and achieving a win or two, especially at Indianapolis, would only further that cause.

Ultimately, whether she succeeds or fails in her stock car attempt, Danica will no-doubt have a much-needed impact on NASCAR's Nationwide Series, which, despite putting on some of the best races run in 2009, continues to struggle for success with its perception as "Sprint Cup Light." Anyone with an opinion on Danica, whether those hoping to see her succeed or those hoping to see her eat some concrete, will tune in to her starts. And as I said, EVERYONE has an opinion. It is a win-win for NASCAR, Nationwide, ESPN and ESPN2 which cover the Nationwide Series exclusively, and anyone who buys advertising for those particular races. Each start she makes will be a "mini-Super Bowl" of sorts, and that in turn could lead to much-needed exposure for other drivers who run well in the races she competes in.

Because of that, Danica's mere presence is, no doubt, a win-win for the sport. Whether or not she is successful or not, however, is a story that will have to probably wait not for the end of this coming season, but perhaps the end of the 2011 or even 2012 campaigns.

In the mean-time, at least we will no doubt have many a GoDaddy.com advertisement to hold us over while we wait to see if and when she "gets" the stock car thing.

Aaron Rosser is an amateur NASCAR writer, cartoonist, and lifelong fan from Northwest Georgia. His favorite drivers include Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, and Bobby Labonte. He can be reached at arosser20ts@hotmail.com or on twitter (@RedChevy14) and his cartoons can be viewed on twitter @nascartoons

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