Patrick’s Pole Victory Was Timed Perfectly
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Over the last several days, it has become obvious that times have changed in NASCAR and not just because Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole. The bigger change may be in the way that that pole victory has been greeted.
Early last decade, NASCAR was being called out by some fans and some media because Dale Earnhardt Jr. was winning Sprint Cup races at restrictor plate tracks. The timing of it, the location of it, the look of it all spelled hinky for some of the more jaded of racing observers.
Some were saying that with all-popular Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s passing, NASCAR officials were worried about the future of the series. Saying that NASCAR, like, say, golf, had become a sport powered by media stars and with Cup’s biggest star gone – and with only then-despised Jeff Gordon in position to take up the slack – officials were cutting rising superstar Earnhardt Jr. some breaks.
Restrictor plate hanky-panky was what conspiracy shock troops were specifically alleging. Even though Earnhardt Jr. had won two Nationwide championships at that point.
Of course there was nothing new about injecting conspiracy theories into racing at that point. There were those who thought the fix was in when Richard Petty won his final race – it was career No. 200 for the King and it came in front of President Ronald Reagan.
Bill Elliott’s pole victory when Dodge came back to NASCAR raised skeptical eyebrows. As did Kevin Harvick’s win at Atlanta in Earnhardt Sr.’s old car.
Thankfully, the types who were saying those kinds of things have moved on. That goes for both the old-school fans and veteran journalists as well.
Because had they not moved on, were they still around today, they might be saying things like:
The timing of Patrick’s pole victory and the week of publicity which are flowing from it could not have been better for NASCAR and the thousands of people whose careers and fortunes are dependent on the sport’s resurgence.
They would likely point out that when Earnhardt Jr. was perceived as being given breaks, the sport was still green and growing and not really in need of a huge boost, but that now, NASCAR is struggling from top to bottom and had better come up with something to keep investors and partners and fans interested.
They would contend that a sport which has been treated like halitosis by mainstream media for the last five years is suddenly popping up on things like ESPN’s shouting-match shows and the pages of New York Times and point to that as proof that NASCAR’s lone crossover star’s pole victory could produce significant Nielsen and bank-account numbers this February.
You can almost hear the ghosts of the conspiracy nuts saying that it just does not seem possible that a driver who has an average finishing position of 24th in 12 Cup starts and 58 Nationwide starts over the past three seasons, could beat out a large contingent of multi-time champions and drivers who have won dozens of races in their careers.
The guess here is that the Doubting Thomas types of a decade ago would harp on the fact that Patrick beat out her two veteran teammates – one a former Daytona 500 winner and the other a three-time series champion – even though they were in virtually identical equipment. And, that two drivers who have won nine championships between them in Cup and who were driving cars with engines engineered on the same Hendrick Motorsports campus as Patrick’s, couldn’t keep pace on the one weekend a year where winning the pole actually means something.
If you can believe this, some of the black helicopter set might even have gone to television’s so-called ghost tracker replays and noted that Patrick edged four-time series champ and three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon at the end of the backstretch – a place where an engine with a restrictor plate with bigger holes or a tweaked EFI unit would show the most.
Though they have absolutely no proof of any kind, these goofs would say that the pole victory by the driver who attracts Hun-like hoards of media and fan attention just by poking her head out of her motor coach to check the weather in the morning, could be worth millions of dollars to everybody from TV partners to website hosts to ticket sellers.
Words like “scripted” would likely have been tossed around like lit sticks of dynamite by these types. They would likely say that during these post-Tim Donaghy days of secret fines and scuttled attendance estimates, anything is possible.
Finally, some glass-half-empty folks might say that the only reason that a big controversy is not building around the pole victory is the deplorable thinning of the ranks of real, independent journalists covering the sport. Those folks might point to this statement made by a Wall Street Journal blogger as evidence of the kind of hysteria which could grip the media with a Patrick pole: “But taking the Daytona pole puts her in the company of Nascar’s greats, from Curtis Turner and David Pearson to Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon.”
No kidding, not that long ago, all of these things might have followed Patrick’s high-profile feat at Daytona.
Man, glad that that kind of stuff is gone forever.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments