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Harris: DanicaMania Is All Good

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 5 2010
Danica Patrick climbs into a stock car for real on Saturday. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Danica Patrick climbs into a stock car for real on Saturday. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

One thing I’ve noticed over the years in dealing with Danica Patrick is her infinite patience with people who want something from her.

When she first arrived in the IndyCar Series in 2005 as a 23-year-old, few gave her much of a shot. Many observers believed team owner Bobby Rahal was simply trying to take advantage of a pretty face to rake in some extra sponsorship money.

But Danica didn’t care what people thought. She did interview after interview, smiling into the camera, saying the right things into the voice recorders and signing autographs for the growing horde of her fans.

Then came the Indianapolis 500, where DanicaMania was born.

This little slip of a girl – barely over 5 feet and weighing less than one of A.J. Foyt’s shoes – stole the show at The Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Without a slip-up on the first of four qualifying laps, she would have won the pole. Instead, Patrick started fourth, became the first woman ever to lead the race and finished a startling fourth.

Since then, she has been more than just another woman in racing. She has been THE woman in racing.

Some people like to point out she only has one IndyCar win. Others criticize her for taking advantage of the fact that she is nice looking to pile up the endorsements and appearances.

But few can say it has gone to her head.

Race after race in IndyCar, she has shown up early for solo press conferences, helping the promoters sell tickets by giving the media what it wants – her words and her pictures.

When she is racing, Patrick is extremely focused and intense. She has been known to deal with some anger issues in the heat of the battle, and Patrick is also her own harshest critic.

But she has been good for the IndyCar side of the sport.

Now her stock car career is about to begin with this weekend’s ARCA race at Daytona and she has again done all the right things in the days and week leading up to it, talking honestly and at length about her motivations, hopes, aspirations and whatever else the media has asked about.

“I know it’s going to take some time to find out if I can do this,’’ she said in a recent press conference. “But I’m excited to see what I can do.’’

She’s not alone. A successful move to stock cars, even with three years remaining on her latest contract with Andretti Autosports in the IZOD IndyCar Series, would be a huge boost for NASCAR.

Nobody knows what to expect.

Some stock car veterans expect her to fail miserably, while others say there’s no reason she can’t adapt to the big, heavy cars in time.

The great experiment begins Saturday at Daytona, where she will start 12th in the ARCA race. The only thing we know for sure is, whether she begins a successful new part of her career or falls flat on her photogenic face, people will be watching.

And, from my experience, she will continue to give the media and the fans exactly what they want: Their money’s worth.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 5 2010
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