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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can Danica remain St. Patrick without a checkered flag?

The bikini shots are beautiful. The Go-Daddy advertisements indeed hold our attention. Her pole position victory for last week’s Daytona 500 was an eye brow raiser and an eye opener indeed! But how long can Danica Patrick remain winless on the NASCAR circuit before her creditability, marketability and overall good for the sport come into serious question? Up to this point there is no doubt Patrick has been an asset to both open-wheel racing during her tenure on the Indy Car circuit as well as her current stint on the NASCAR scene in both the Nationwide and Winston Cup Series. After all she is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing, winning the 2008 Indy Japan 300 and finishing third in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. She also holds the IRL record for most consecutive races running at the finish. But her run in stock cars, (which in her defense has been much shorter) so far has been less impressive. While she did become the first women to win a Nascar Sprint Cup Series pole and first female to ever lead a race, however she still finished a fading eighth at the finish line after running third on the final lap, a true sign of her lack of experience and skills although she exceeded the expectations of most. In 11 races run over two years in the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick has put together just one top-ten finish. Success has been a little easier in the Nationwide events as she’s dropped seven top-ten finishes. While the wins have not come easily the attention certainly has. The Daytona 500’s television ratings earned a 9.9 rating with Patrick starting from the pole, up 24 percent from last year’s rain soaked Monday night event. Last week’s race had the highest rating since 2008. All of the attention she attracted has certainly been good for her checking account as Patrick holds a net worth of reportedly 33-million dollars! All in all, Patrick has been spectacular for the sport, bringing in new viewership, especially females…. the biggest demographic to gain, as well as attention from main-stream sports outlets that just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for Patrick’s presence. But when or will we ever see her in victory lane which would truly justify her abilities and erase the “all hype” label she still maintains? Some believe with NASCAR switching to Generation 6 cars, the odds become greater against Patrick because of her inexperience at this level. But her team, Stewart-Haas racing is looking strong to start the season and Patrick will no doubt be put in fast rides which will increase her chances this season. Before she captured the Daytona pole, her divorce from Paul Hospenthal and new romance to fellow driver and Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made not only Patrick’s biggest headlines but NASCAR’s as well. The good ole boys of NASCAR don’t mind sharing the spotlight of their sport and passion with a female, as long as she’s earning not only their respect but also the attention she garners. Many see Patrick as a possible rookie of the year candidate on the Sprint Car Series but until she does more than capture a pole spot or make an occasional top-ten finish with the big boys, she’ll remain more of a novelty act known more for her gender then an actual competitor of her peers. Right now she’s not the Anna Kournikova of racing but should she remain winless over this season, the jury will still be out on her true worth to the sport as an actual driver.

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