What is NASCAR buying with the Danica hype?
Where I live in South Jersey, you will occasionally see billboards for upcoming races at Dover Speedway. A few days ago I drove by one with Danica’s face plastered on the billboard even larger that the words “Dover Speedway”. It’s the first time I can recall either of two things happening: a Nationwide race being advertised on a billboard, and a driver being mentioned on a billboard for an upcoming event. I’m not saying that it’s never happened, just that I haven’t seen it.
All this for a driver whose best finish in six races is 24th. Who has yet to finish a race even as much as one lap down.
Google “Danica Patrick” and the first thing that will appear on your computer screen are eight photos, or at least that’s what showed up on my screen. Two of them show her in a firesuit, one shows her undressing out of a firesuit with little on underneath, and the rest show her in various types of lingerie. It’s hard to know whether she’s a racecar driver or a supermodel posing as one.
Danica Patrick has as much right to try to make it in NASCAR as anyone. She has every right to struggle and finish poorly until she gets the hang of it, especially if she can bring in the sponsorship. You could make the same argument for John Wes Townley. Racing is not a perfect world and teams need sponsors. But what, exactly, are NASCAR and ESPN and venues trying to buy by shoving a less than mediocre driver down every racing fan’s throat?
Despite Dale Earnhardt Jr’s example that poor on-track performance is a poor way to gain fans, NASCAR and its promoters are putting the future of the sport on the assets of at best a mediocre driver.
I can’t think of an athlete in history with a higher ratio of hype to performance. Watching Danica try to race in NASCAR is like watching Michael Jordan try to play baseball. Her lack of qualification for this level is so patently obvious it’s embarrassing.
But to listen to networks and tracks, you’d think she was the next Dale Earnhardt. ESPN even went so far one race as to show that Danica had moved from 31st to 3rd place in X number of laps—when the rest of the field was cycling through pit stops. As if she had been charging through the field—and somehow a broadcast that featured a Danica update every half a lap missed it!
Are things so bad in NASCAR that instead of promoting the resurgence of Richard Childress, or the battle between Hendrick teammates to be the first to reach five championships, or the sleeper status of Jeff Burton, or the possibility of the Busch brothers battling for a title, we’re getting sensory overload of a driver whose biggest qualification is how well she fits into a skimpy bikini?
If the racing is “better than it’s ever been”, as NASCAR keeps insisting, why focus so intently on a driver who isn’t even performing well in a minor league series? What part of Danica Patrick’s appeal has anything at all to do with what she can do in a racecar?
Yes, and here I am writing an article about it. I get the irony, or hypocrisy I suppose you could call it. But trust me; I’m not going to gain anything financially from this piece, short or long term. What I don’t get is once NASCAR milks Danica for all she’s worth and then some beyond the point of fatigue, then what?
Tracks and networks fret about losing so many Little E fans due to his lack of track success. You’d think they’d learn something from that. Yet they are again willing to put all of their ratings and attendance eggs into the basket for a driver far less skilled than Junior. Frontstretch