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Here Comes Danica
August 31, 2011 - Al Stephenson
It is now official. What people have been speculating about for over a year will be reality come 2012. Danica Patrick is going to give up her Indy car racing gig to head to Nascar. She will drive a full Nationwide schedule for JR Motorsports in 2012. In 2013 she will reportedly drive a third car for Stewart-Haas Racing in Sprint Cup action. She's not only moving to Nascar, she is going to keep company with two of the sports most famed drivers in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Stewart.
So is this a good thing for Nascar? Absolutely. Will she be competitive, particularly at the Cup level? Well, that's debatable.
The move proves two things right off the bat. 1) Nascar has a business side, just like all other sports. 2) Sex sells.
There are a lot of die hard Nascar fans (presumably male) that think she has no business being put in a Cup car. She has won exactly once on the Indy car circuit and does not deserve a ride. She has not paid her dues, they say. She is taking a seat from guys who have toiled in lower stock car divisions. It's not fair, they howl in unison.
Well no one said life is fair. If you were wondering if Nascar was immune to the almighty dollar, wonder no more. Patrick is getting a ride because she is bringing sponsor dollars with her to the table, or should we say to the track. I learned the hard way about the business side of the sport as my favorite driver was unceremoniously dumped from a ride that he nearly took to a points title shortly before he was sacked.
Sterling Marlin was the driver of the Chip Ganassi/Felix Sabates Chevrolet sponsored by Coors Light. He was, by all acounts, a successful driver. Coors Light however wanted to target a younger age group, suggesting that the over 50 crowd was not drinking their product. They put the heat on Ganassi and Marlin was showed the door. I honestly started drinking (as much as I drink) Coors Light when they became Sterling's sponsor. I have not had one since!
Sterling got a couple of "shaky" rides after that, but soon was retired. I have still not found a "new" favorite driver, and I am still a little bitter that an owner would bend to the pressure of a sponsor to release an established driver for someone younger and more marketable. That, however, is life in Nascar these days. Roger Penske of all people could not find sponsor dollars for Sam Hornish and the Ohioan was demoted to the Nationwide Series this season. Danica has a sponsor in GoDaddy.com that will follow her wherever she wants to go. That kind of money will get you a ride - ready or not.
Let's face it folks, Danica Patrick is an extremely attractive woman. The GoDaddy commercials have young men everywhere scrambling to get to their computers to see the uncut version of those ads. People follow the exploits of Danica whether they are race fans or not. She makes a lot of money both from and for GoDaddy. Those bucks are going to go to Nascar to see what she can do in stock car racing. Deserving or not, here she comes.
The fact that she has won just one race in Indy cars does not necessarily mean that she is not a good racer. I personally think she is a pretty darn good driver. Whether that translates into wins in Nascar remains to be seen, but we will soon find out.
The view from my seat suggests that any underdog that takes on the big "boys" in any sport is worth rooting for. I'll cheer her on and smile if and when she goes to the winners circle.
I doubt I'll be alone.
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