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Woody: Surprise! Danica Can Drive

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 9 2010
Danica Patrick erased questions as to whether or not she could drive a stock car on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Danica Patrick erased questions as to whether or not she could drive a stock car on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Have you heard the news? Danica Patrick knows how to drive.

And this just in: Danica also can draw a crowd.

Judging from the reaction of some of the TV commentators and sports columnists during/following Patrick’s stock car debut Saturday at Daytona, some folks didn’t realize she had either potential.

After Patrick finished 6th in the ARCA 200 my longtime buddy Darrell Waltrip told his national TV audience “She’s made a believer of me.”

Darrell was impressed by the fact that Patrick wasn’t intimidated by the beat-and-bang type of racing, that she was able to control her car during a skid through the grass, that she was willing to swap sparks and sheet metal with the boys during a wild last-lap sprint.

Likewise some folks seemed amazed – amazed, I tell you – by the roaring fan response and the sea of media that washed over the petite refugee from the Indy Racing League.

I’m surprised they were so surprised.

Those of us who were on hand for Danica’s Indy 500 debut and who chronicled her increase in popularity year after year knew what her Daytona reception would be.

Danica increased Indy’s pulse rate, and her impact in NASCAR will be 100-fold.

Did it just dawn on people that someone who’s capable of leading the Indianapolis 500 – and almost winning it – can hold her own in an ARCA race?

At one point during last Saturday’s race one of the boys in the booth remarked about how calm Patrick appeared to be while running two-wide.

Two wide? At Indy they START three-wide.

I suspect that Danica’s hot looks created a lot the doubts that had been voiced leading up to her ARCA debut. Surely (went the reasoning) someone that attractive couldn’t be a serious racer. She had to have gotten here strictly on her looks, right?

Wrong. Being a swimsuit model may help with marketing but it won’t make a car go fast and keep it off the wall. Strolling down the catwalk doesn’t equate to racing at Indy and Daytona.

Besides, it’s not just Patrick’s looks that wow the fans. They are also captivated by her spunk and spirit. She’s a 100-pound bundle of dynamite and she takes nothing from nobody. She’s Cale Yarborough with lip gloss.

I said it before and I’ll say it again – when she hits NASCAR she will create a sensation that’s unprecedented. What we saw in Saturday’s ARCA race was a mere warm-up.

Make no mistake, ARCA’s not the Nationwide Series, the series in which she will drive this coming Saturday. And certainly not the Sprint Cup Series. Patrick’s not going to waltz into either and immediately set the world on fire.

But there’s no question that she has the talent and ability to compete, and there’s no question that, while she’s learning, she’ll make it interesting. Fans who drifted away in recent years will come back and bring a legion of new fans with them.

There’s no way to over-estimate the Danica Factor in terms of how much she will mean to NASCAR.

Some of us aren’t surprised.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 9 2010
3 Comments

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  • Mike Nantel says:

    This is great for NASCAR! GO Danica GO All the best with series I hope you do well

  • Terrell Davis says:

    Right on the money, Woody! Danica is just what the doctor ordered to get NASCAR up and running full blast. She is talented, controversial…in that she won’t take anything from anyone, and of course, in case no one noticed, she is a fairly attractive woman driver (woman driver being a term that usually causes a frown the good old boys).
    But Cale Yarborough with lip gloss? Woody, you are absolutely priceless!