All you have to say is her name and most fans have an opinion. In fact, at this point, she’s pretty much beloved by all. A lot of that has a lot to do with her performance which so far has been mid-pack at best. She qualified 15th and finished 15th on Saturday at Kansas Speedway, which is acceptable, She didn’t challenge for the win, but finished in front of 28 other drivers. I imagine she felt like it was a successful day and it probably was.
[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”218″][/media-credit]Of course I’m talking about Danica Patrick. Patrick, with first class Hendrick Motorsports equipment, has not been awesome in her first year on the Nationwide Series circuit, but making the move from the lightweight Indy Series cars to the heavy NASCAR cars has to be challenging. That said the theory behind why NASCAR so desperately wants her in their camp is flawed. Danica Patrick is not NASCAR’s savior.
When NASCAR’s popularity began to wane a few years ago, it was widely hinted that the death of the sport’s icon, Dale Earnhardt, had pushed many fans away. I don’t doubt that. You can still go to tracks and see the No. 3 flags and listen to fans fondly talk about the man they called “The Intimidator.” But it’s been a decade since Dale left us, and I see his fans everywhere at tracks. Maybe some gave up on the sport, but that wasn’t the reason for the decline.
Later on, the story was that the elder Earnhardt’s son, Dale, Jr., wasn’t winning and only if he could get to victory lane, things would fall into place. Earnhardt, Jr. left his father’s team and headed to the greener pastures of Hendrick Motorsports where success was bound to happen. After all, this was the team that had the fastest cars in the sport. Earnhardt has one victory since joining HMS and usually finishes well out of the running. He has shown improvement lately, but that isn’t the reason for the decline, either.
Finally, the Great Recession hit in the fall of 2007. That was blamed for the lack of butts in the seats, but no one to this day will ever blame the product that is put on the track week after week. That’s the problem. The fact that everyone is in denial means that other methods are examined to boost the sport, and that starts with one Danica Patrick.
The decline of NASCAR started with the development of the Car of Tomorrow. Yes, the old “twisted sister” that was used for years didn’t look like the showroom car, and the new car was much safer to NASCAR’s credit, but it took most teams, with the notable exception of Hendrick Motorsports, a couple of years to figure it out because it was so different. In the meantime, it was the same thing every week. Which Hendrick car would win or which Joe Gibbs Racing car would win (after they switched to Toyota). Richard Childress Racing, the home of Dale Earnhardt, and Roush-Fenway Racing were out to lunch. It also started the reign of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Over and over, Johnson won and won again. He will probably win again this year. The suspense is gone. It’s just a matter of time until Johnson wins again. Today, he sits four points out of the points lead with six races to go. Why? The creation of the NFL playoff clone called The Chase. The barrage of intermediate tracks in the “championship run” is tailor made for Johnson and the COT, but that’s not the problem according to many. It has to be something else, like new faces in the series. Enter Danica Patrick.
The theory is that Danica will bring in men. Lord knows she is a nice looking lady. Women want someone to root for and Danica is perfect. But will she get people to come out to see her race? Will TV ratings go up when she participates?
Ignoring the obvious problems with the product cannot be cured with the entrance of an attractive woman who is a media expert and a good driver. Until the day that the powers that be can figure out that flaws exist in the product they have given fans, nothing will turn around. NASCAR needs more Darlington’s and Bristol’s that offered slam-bang racing. That was what made the sport so exciting to the fans. Instead, NASCAR became, and has become, a sport where the usual happens on cookie-cutter tracks that all look the same. So don’t expect that little lovely lady to save us. It will be nice to have her around, but it isn’t the answer.