She has the looks of a runway model, the racetrack temperament of A.J. Foyt, and wherever she goes she creates a fan frenzy. NASCAR could use a good frenzy right now, and Danica Patrick is just what the doctor ordered.It’s no secret that NASCAR has become stale and predictable — the same old faces in the same old places; ride-around racing by PR-controlled robotic drivers. It’s no wonder that attendance and TV ratings have gone Titanic in recent years. If Danica can’t revive NASCAR’s pulse it may be time to park the cars and go bowling.
Patrick will run a limited schedule in the second-tier Nationwide Series next season — possibly including a visit to Nashville Superspeedway — while running a full 17-race schedule in the IndyCar Series.
“Danica will do for NASCAR what she did for the IRL,” says Cliff Hawks, VP/GM of Nashville Superspeedway, whose track hosted four of Patrick’s IRL races. “She will generate interest and excitement and get people to watch. Even if she doesn’t race here she will still be good for our series because of the attention she draws to it.”
IndyCar racing was fading like a pair of cheap jeans five years ago when Patrick jumped in and almost single-handedly pulled the drowning league ashore. Folks who’d never watched a race in their lives began tuning in to see how Danica was doing.
Hawks is right: She’ll draw even more attention in NASCAR, especially considering the fact that she’s driving for J.R. Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Patrick and Earnhardt are their series’ most popular drivers. A Dale & Danica partnership is racing’s Dream Team. Patrick is one of sports’ most high-profile athletes. She got more AOL hits last year than Tom Brady, and her visibility continues to rise. She will star in a new GoDaddy.com TV commercial airing during the Super Bowl. How’s that for kicking off a new career?
Critics note that Patrick, 27, has won only one IRL race in five seasons. They contend that the swirl of media attention is generated more by the driving diva’s swimsuit-model looks than by her racing talent. But she has led the Indy 500 — and almost won it — which proves she can handle higher racing speeds than those run in NASCAR.
Can she make it? Will she succeed in the Nationwide Series and advance to the Sprint Cup or will she fall flat? Nobody knows. That’s part of the viewer-drawing drama.
One thing is for sure: Whenever and wherever Patrick races, Danica-mania will be bubbling.
Woody is a Nashville sports writer who has covered racing since the early 1970s.