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Woody: Danica The Jolt That NASCAR Needs

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 9 2009
The hope is Danica Patrick will bring a lot of excitement with her when she comes to NASCAR. (File photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

The hope is Danica Patrick will bring a lot of excitement with her when she comes to NASCAR. (File photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

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 lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 9 2009
11 Comments

11 Comments »

  • Marc says:

    Steve o em>”I’m amazed that an experienced Nascar writer thinks that this arrogant little twit can succeed in an ultra competitive sport with no stock car racing experience whatsoever.”

    “Arrogant little twit?”

    Not much for respectful repartee are you? As “Steve863″ notes you either failed to read the authors article or failed, miserably, to understand it.

    As for you, “kbd52″ not much on current IRL rules are you? The IRL has run the last TWO SEASONS with a ballast rule that equalizes driver weights between the smallest [Patrick] to the largest [193-pound Justin Wilson]

    “kbd52,” do try to keep up will you.

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  • kbd52 says:

    Danika is an average race driver. She had a huge advantage in IRL in weight and STILL couldn’t get it done (without a good pit stop strategy to help). Note that IRL weighs the car without the driver inside. This gave her a big advantage. Secondly, she cannot drive in a crowd”"! Indy is a one line race. She only did well in one line tracks. Put her in a “crowd” she goes backwards. I hope she DOES succeed though. She handles herself well and is good for racing. I too am a former racer.

    • Barfie says:

      Actually, the IRL requires ballast on the cars to minimize weight advantage. Truth is that Danica is at a substantial disadvantage. IndyCars are extremely physical to drive, and require a lot of upper body strength. One year at St. Pete a driver crashed out of the race because his arms gave out; that’s how hard it is.

      Danica has a reputation for shaking hands like a man, and being very fit, but she’ll never have the upper body strength of somebody like Tony Kanaan, and it is required to get the most out of an IndyCar over the course of a road or street race.

      Indy drivers go side by side all the time; the difference is that touching each other is much more dangerous. Witness Franchitti’s massive aerial flip-over after touching wheels with another car. Yes, Indy itself has become a one groove track through the corners, but other tracks are not (it’s a series, believe it or not). At Texas, they go through turn #3 two, or even three wide at 215+.

      The big differences between the two cars is weight, downforce, and mechanical grip. NASCAR sleds have a lot more of the first and a lot less of the other two. It’s a different world. OTOH, Danica tested in a Nationwide car before joining the IRL, and apparently ran competitive times.

      We’ll see.

  • 61starliner says:

    You are either a moron, or just trying to make points with NASCAR. She won one race and that was a fuel mileage race. This will be a Big embarrassment for NASCAR. There is a reason she is running a limited schedule besides her indy excuse. Someone else has to keep the car in the top 35, otherwise they will have to have someone else qualify the car and start the race before she can drive. I’m willing to bet she gets her butt whipped by Crissy Wallace every time they race together.
    This is gonna make NASCAR look like the WWF, and they will lose even more credibility than they already have in 2009/

  • Will says:

    I’m beginning to think the NASCAR media is as disconnected from the fans as Washington is from the voters. The media is so excited about the Chase, but TV ratings are now lower than before it started. The media is absolutely obsessed with Danica Patrick, a winner of one-count it-one! Indy Car Race in multiple seasons.

    Juan Montoya was an Indy 500 winner and a 7-time F1 race winner. Tony Stewart was a two-time Indy Champion. These are the only open-wheelers who have had a modicum of success in NASCAR. This is an affirmative action move..and that is not what NASCAR fans want.I guarantee the majority of fans would rather see a driver with some dirt under his fingernails than nail polish on them.

  • Steve863 says:

    steve-o did not read the article because the writer did not say she would be successful racing only that she would be successful bringing a whole new look to NASCAR. If he does not believe that then he does live in his mom’s basement.

  • steve-o says:

    I’m amazed that an experienced Nascar writer thinks that this arrogant little twit can succeed in an ultra competitive sport with no stock car racing experience whatsoever.

  • Ginger says:

    Thank you for giving Danica a chance. None of us know how she will do on the track, but at least she has the guts to try racing in Nascar. Not a lot of drivers would lay it all on the line and take a chance on failing, so I say “go girl”.

  • The0real0slander says:

    Jeez, fawn much?