Woody: Danica The Jolt That NASCAR Needs
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Danica Patrick, who has yet to make a lap in a stock car, has generated a bigger media blitz and fan buzz than Jimmie Johnson did with his record-busting fourth-straight NASCAR championship.
And if you think Danica-mania has created a stir thus far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Just wait ’til this Tigress gets to the track.
After months of coy flirtation, Patrick finally made it official Tuesday: Next season she’s coming to a NASCAR track near you. Patrick announced plans to run several Nationwide races and at least one ARCA race as part of a two-year deal with JR Motorsports.
Patrick will also run the full (18-race) IndyCar schedule.
Patrick, a 27-year-old native of Roscoe, Ill., who resides in Phoenix with her husband, arrived in the IRL just in time to rescue the open-wheel series from oblivion. In each of her five seasons, she led the league in media coverage and fan attention and she’ll do the same in NASCAR – at least early-on.
Let’s face it: NASCAR has grown stale. Same old faces in the same old places. Ride-around racing and predictable finishes by a parade of PR-scripted Plastic Men.
Little wonder that fans yawned their way through yet another season of declining attendance and sinking TV ratings.
NASCAR desperately needs something to shake things up and get the juices flowing. That something is the spirited Danica, with the looks of a runway model and the temperament of A.J. Foyt.
In 2008, Patrick topped Tiger Woods, Tom Brady and Super Bowl champ Eli Manning as the most searched athlete on America On Line.
Now she’s in NASCAR where she will be an immediate sensation. Jillions of non race fans who wouldn’t recognize Jimmie Johnson if they bumped into him buying sheetrock at Lowes know who Danica Patrick is. They’ll tune into her NASCAR races just to see how she’s doing, just as they tuned into her IRL races.
Critics don’t think she can cut it, smugly pointing to the floundering of former IRL champion Sam Hornish Jr. – while conveniently ignoring two NASCAR championships won by another IRL refugee, Tony Stewart.
It’s absurd to attempt to analyze Patrick’s NASCAR chances based on the performance – good or bad – of other open-wheel racers. Hornish’s struggles don’t mean Patrick will fail, any more than Stewart’s success guarantees Patrick will succeed.
I believe she has the talent to make it. Anyone who can almost win the Indy 500 obviously knows how to drive a race car. You don’t lead Indy just because you look good in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. It takes skill and daring and nerve and ability to race at Indy.
Danica has proved she has all that.
The question now becomes, can she transfer it to stock cars? And how long will it take her to advance to the top-tier Cup Series?
Anyone who thinks Danica can’t physically handle a NASCAR car has never shaken hands with her. She’s got Popeye forearms and the grip of a lumberjack. And remember, most of today’s NASCAR hotshots aren’t exactly Herculean. There are no Cale Yarboroughs any more.
Janet Guthrie put it best when skeptics whined that girls weren’t strong enough to drive stock cars: “I don’t have to lift the car, I just have to drive it.”
The fact is, despite all the “expert commentary” both pro and con, nobody knows how Patrick will fare in NASCAR. It’s a tough, competitive world, and scores very talented male drivers have failed to make it.
A few, like Jimmie Johnson, stepped into a Dream Ride and became overnight successes. More typical was the path of Sterling Marlin, who raced for 17 years before winning – then captured back-to-back Daytona 500s.
I’m convinced Patrick has the ability, the fire and the desire. She will have the cars and the backing. It’s up to her to show what she can do with it.
Nobody knows if she’ll make it or not, but one thing we can say with absolute certainty: Wherever she races, NASCAR is in for a side-show like it’s never seen before.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments