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Danica Patrick just needs to be Okay

by Brian Carroccio
Tuesday, October 23, 2012

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Danica Patrick spins Landon Cassill, but in the process wrecks herself out of the race
Getty Images
Once upon a time, I worked as an assistant basketball coach for a junior varsity high school team. While we were not much to brag about on the court, I remember the team quite well, particularly the head coach. He was your prototypical gruff, sarcastic, grump of a coach, who could always find the cloud in any silver lining. As you can probably imagine, he possessed a rather vast array of rather cutting and often quotable, criticisms of his players. Perhaps, his most wicked and memorable phrase, use to be, and I'm paraphrasing, "son, please don't be awful, just, if at all possible, be okay."

For reasons I cannot fathom, his words of inspiration fell on deaf ears. While the year and school will remain anonymous to protect the guilty, we were in fact awful, and not remotely close, to being okay. Nevertheless, the salty's coach's phrase has managed to stick with me these many years.

Now, you may be asking, what in fact, does any of this has to do with automobile racing. Well, the lesson of my JV basketball assistant coaching career, may be worthwhile to share with one, Danica Patrick.  Yes, the attractive, marketing savvy, Go Daddy girl has found the going quite tough in this, her first year of full-time NASCAR Nationwide competition.  This past weekend, Patrick made a rare appearance in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kansas Speedway, and had a decent race going before an ill-advised entanglement with Landon Cassill. Frustrated with what she believed to be Cassill's rough driving, Patrick decided she would "stand up for," herself. On lap 155, Patrick got into the rear bumper of Cassill, spinning him out.

The problem, of course, is in attempting to gain retribution for whatever injustice she perceived herself to be a victim of, Patrick did not take out Cassill.  Rather, the precocious Patrick, wrecked herself.  While Cassill did spin, he was able to continue, and ultimately finished 18th. Patrick could not control her car after initiating the contact, crashed and embarrassingly found herself out of the race.

Predictably, Cassill amongst others, took the opportunity to pile on Patrick, who, in fairness, made herself a relatively easy target. Cassill said Patrick was driving like "a maniac," and somewhat sarcastically noted that he learned long ago, how to wreck someone, without wrecking himself.

Of course, part of the reason Patrick is such an easy target is she has endured a miserable first full season in NASCAR's 2nd division Nationwide Series. While one could argue she has experienced some dastardly luck, she has failed to finish any race better than 8th.  Also, Patrick has long been displayed something of a short fuse. In both NASCAR and IndyCar, Patrick has regularly dropped f-bombs on the radio, moped about disappointing results, and been willing to take up matters with other drivers, often in a less than civil manner.

However, neither Patrick's less than stellar finishing record, nor her inability to maintain calm, are going to derail her NASCAR career. If anything, her willingness to show a more human side, has arguably won her some fans in this sanitized, corporate era.

Now, what will derail Danica's foray into NASCAR is a repeat of this past weekend. See, in Kansas, Danica's actions were amateurish; laughable. She was inept at being dirty. And rightly or wrongly, Patrick came away appearing to be an embarrassment, a joke. Yes, this past weekend, Danica was awful, embarrassingly awful. However, for her foray into NASCAR to be successful, Patrick needs to remember, she only needs to be, okay.

See, as stated earlier, Patrick does not have to become a NASCAR race winner, or even a regular top-20 finisher for her foray into NASCAR to be successful. Open-wheel stars transferring to stock cars have historically not enjoyed great success, and no one in their right minds expects Patrick, who had a decent, yet unspectacular open wheel career to be the next Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart.

However, Patrick despite her current lackluster form, does remain a novelty. For example, there are plenty of average to above average looking Caucasian American males from the South and Midwest competing in NASCAR. There is just one attractive woman, who has shown that while she is not an elite racer, she can more than hold her own at the top levels of motorsport.

Simply put, Danica does not have to win races and championships in NASCAR. She can make a ton of money and enjoy a long career by simply acquitting herself as a professional racer, who belongs at the top level. And there are plenty of examples I can point to.

Of course, one of the many reasons NASCAR is an unparalleled American success story, can be seen in the fact the sport has made household names, and numerous multi-millionaires, out of drivers with incredibly modest accomplishments. For example, Kenny Wallace, who has zero Sprint Cup wins in 344 starts, can get $23 per copy for his biography, and regularly books corporate speaking engagements. Now, Wallace is a likable, gregarious fellow, and certainly savvy enough to capitalize on the opportunities that have been afforded to him. However, his on track accomplishments are nothing more than pedestrian.

Still, Wallace, is without question a professional-level racer. While he is not Stewart or Johnson, he does not appear out of place on the track as Patrick showed herself to be this weekend.  At times, he has scored good finishes, and is often called upon as a replacement driver for certain teams. For example, Wallace was on call with Team Penske earlier this season, when A.J. Allmendinger was suddenly suspended for failing a drug test, before Sam Hornish, Jr. arrived minutes before the green flag.

And while Wallace has successfully parlayed his "Everyman," persona into riches and success in other endeavors, let’s face facts: Danica Patrick has way more marketing potential than Kenny Wallace. She's attractive, she can be charming, and she is the first female racer in history to become a household name. While you can criticize her childish behavior at times, Patrick throwing the occasional, or for that matter, regular, temper tantrum is not going to be a deal breaker for her NASCAR career.

But wrecking herself, in amateurish and embarrassing fashion will. It will make her, and her foray into NASCAR, seem like nothing but an amateurish, misguided publicity stunt.

Thus, Patrick would be well-advised to reign herself in a little. Instead of going out her way to "stand up," Danica needs to remember she has set herself up to become an extraordinarily wealthy woman, if she can simply manage to not self-destruct. And if Danica can simply remember to not be awful, she's going to be more than okay.

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