It's Danica time

Kay Bell | January 01, 2012

Views from the Grandstands


NASCAR will change, for better or worse, with Patrick’s arrival

NASCAR Nation, get ready. The Danica Patrick era is here.

Starting in February, the most popular female driver who hasn’t won a race in years will be driving a Nationwide Series car for Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular male driver to not win a race in years.

Years ago, I lauded Patrick as one of the women chipping away at the asphalt ceiling. She had just won her first IndyCar race (Motegi, Japan, 2008) and seemed poised to add more.

Then life took one of its funny turns. Patrick’s open-wheel career plateaued; she never won another open-wheel race. At the same time, her marketing presence blossomed. Here in Texas, we call that all hat and no cattle.

I suspect this style-over-substance ranching metaphor will continue to be apt, and some in the racing world think that’s not such a bad thing. Of course, these folks tend to be on the business side of the sport rather than the competition side. As a fan, however, I see some downsides to Patrick’s move to NASCAR.

All Danica all the time

Patrick will continue to get disproportionate attention from the NASCAR media. Her every move, on and off the track, will be followed, analyzed and in most cases delivered as a positive no matter what.

We’ve already seen this in her initial forays into stock cars. Now we’ll get it in every Nationwide race and the handful of Sprint Cup races (see Loose Lugnuts below) she’ll run.

If you’re already ticked off that the broadcasters don’t give your favorite driver enough coverage, you’re only gonna get madder. And despite what NASCAR thinks, that won’t help TV ratings. Most NASCAR fans follow specific drivers. Jeff Gordon has been my driver since I discovered the sport when he was in what was then the Busch series. When the 24 is running poorly or crashes out early, my interest tends to wane. Judging from my conversations with other NASCAR fans, I am not alone.

So if Patrick can’t turn all the looky-loos into hardcore fans, she’s not going to help the sport’s long-term appeal. And until the TV teams calling the races get past “all Danica all the time,” their over-focus is going to turn off many current fans.

Other Nationwide teams will suffer

Mid-pack drivers already have been hurt by the Patrick overkill. Invariably, the TV cameras are focused on race leaders or Danica making a pass for 22nd place. That means the other drivers around her who would normally get at least a minimal bit of airtime will be even less visible.

And once a race is over, other drivers/teams/sponsors are overlooked as track reporters jostle to get a reaction from Danica regarding her middle-of-the-pack performance.

This inordinate attention means the sponsors of other similarly situated cars are ignored. If the businesses that grace vehicle hoods aren’t getting TV time, they might start wondering about the return they’re getting on their investment.

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