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« Sprint Cup Qualifying results from Las Vegas | Main | Danica, Hockey and Hendrick domination combine to ruin NASCAR’s weekend »

Danica Phase I proves that NASCAR is starved for personality

By admin | February 27, 2010

By Richard Allen

Saturday’s Nationwide race was one a number of NASCAR fans have been looking forward to for three weeks. At the same time there are no doubt a number of fans who had a bit of a letdown after the checkered flag fell on the Sam’s Town 300.

Las Vegas was the third and final race of phase I of the Danica Patrick Tour on the Nationwide Series. A media storm has followed Ms. Patrick throughout this three race foray. At times, the media rush and the excessive promotion has bordered on obscene. Crowds of television cameras, radio microphones and print journalists have trailed behind her looking like pigeons flocking around a person who has brought bird seed to the park.

After the race in California Danica led reporters on a bizarre trip through the pits and hauler parking area looking like the Pied Piper with her minions behind her. She then directed their every question like a play director on a stage.

Danica has won one IndyCar race in Japan but her arrival has received the attention that would have been more fitting for Formula 1 champion Michael Shumacher had he decided to come to NASCAR. Other drivers from open wheel racing have come to NASCAR with better credentials but far less fanfare.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish and Dario Franchitti were all Indianapolis 500 winners who received some attention but nothing like that given to Ms. Patrick. Jacques Villenueve brought a resume with an Indy 500 victory and a Formula 1 championship on it and he received so little attention he could not even get enough sponsorship to last more than a few races.

It is probably safe to say that never has so much attention been paid to a driver who scored finishes of 35th, 31st and 36th. Television promos from ESPN have centered on her as they guided fans to their coverage of the Nationwide Series. And more, the coverage of the races themselves was so focused on Danica that many fans were prompted to ask on the various social networks whether anyone else was even racing. When she dropped out of the Daytona race many viewers reacted with Twitter and Facebook updates to the effect of, “Now, ESPN can actually show the race.”

So, what have we learned from phase I of the Danica experience?

We learned that NASCAR media, and apparently fans as well, are starved for some personality. Complain as much as both the media and the fans did about the hype around Danica, they both participated. The media chased her around just hoping for a morsel of a story while fans tuned their television in, especially at Daytona, in high numbers. The ratings for the California race were lower year over year from 2009 but my contention is that without Danica those numbers would have been far lower in 2010.

We also learned that with that hype comes considerable power. After an on-track incident with driver Michael McDowell in Las Vegas which ended Danica’s day, McDowell was quick to accept “100% responsibility” for the crash. His action there seemed a bit more chivalrous than realistic but he no doubt realized that to start a dispute with the female driver would no doubt end badly for him.

With so many of NASCAR’s high profile drivers looking and sounding like robotic clones it is really no wonder there was such a flocking toward Danica. Everyone was hoping she might exude some signs of life and not just spew the same old, “Our car is going to be good in the race and I’d like to thank my sponsors.”

Of course, there is the novelty of a woman trying to make it in what has been predominately a “man’s world” but there are and have been other women in the sport who have attracted far less attention. Perhaps it was Danica’s oft played television commercials that led everyone to believe she was going to be different. Maybe it was the image of her childlike foot stomping tirades that caused people to believe she might actually display some emotion.

Whatever the case, she has now blown through NASCAR in her initial visit and has left for the Brickyard and other open wheel venues. In such a short time it was really difficult to tell whether or not she possessed any of those qualities media and fans are starved for.

It is my belief that she will never be terribly successful in NASCAR. However, she may actually provide a splash of personality to a sport that has proven devoid of that for years. So, don’t just blame the media for the hype. Both fans and media seem to want something from her that few other drivers are willing to give, personality.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

Topics: Articles |

8 Responses to “Danica Phase I proves that NASCAR is starved for personality”

  1. mkrcr Says:
    February 27th, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    C’mon. Personality from Ms. Patrick? She’s more plastic than a blowup doll. Her and JJ would be a perfect match.

  2. Richard Allen Says:
    February 27th, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Note, I didn’t say she had personality. I said some people were hoping she had personality.

  3. Gene Says:
    February 27th, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    I had the same thoughts on McDowell’s apology. I guess he figures HMS ‘owes’ him one now. She had no clue how much faster she was than him, as she was on new tires. Other drivers were no doubt in that same situation during the race. However, none put themselves in a position to wreck.

  4. midasmicah Says:
    February 28th, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Danica Patrick is already acting like a prima donna regarding the wreck with McDowell. He owned up. She not once, but twice acting like someone entitled and spoiled in the interview after the wreck. If nas$car is indeed starving for a “personality”, then they’ve chosen the wrong one. They’re already turning Kyle Busch in a valilla personality.

  5. JR Says:
    February 28th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    The Nationwide Series better hope she does not come back for “round 2″. They should have learned that she is not drawing attention to the series, she is only drawing attention to herself and her sponsors. If she continues to make additional forays into stock car racing, she will simply suck all the attention and all the dollars into her “brand”. Why would all the other drivers and their sponsors want to see her come back? The media only dwells on her, not them. Coverage of the races dwell only on her, not them. Why would a sponsor want to be associated with a team and driver that will be ignored as long as she is taking up all the spotlight? I know, the guys in suits have convinced the powers that be that she is good for the sport but the reality is that she is simply a side show that is making her a lot of money. Think about this: If there are vast groups of people interested in seeing Danica race, why do the IRL races draw almost zero fans?

  6. steven Says:
    February 28th, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    If you look at practice times, qualifying times and race results anyone can see that she just isn’t competitive. When the announcers kept crowing about her being in third place i wanted to puke. This is disingenuous broadcasting at best. Finally some writers are reporting with integrity, like Rich.

  7. Richard in N.C. Says:
    February 28th, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    It fascinates me to watch the media complain about how they are covering Danica. I guess the new excuse is “Danica made me do it.” Maybe drivers are so guarded because they have learned how disingenuous the media is. But what do I know, I’m just a NASCAR fan and a noted sports columnist has written and stated publicly that NASCAR fans are “ignorant and gullible.”

  8. Steve Says:
    March 1st, 2010 at 11:29 am

    I’m not a defender of Danica, but maybe if the racing didn’t feature Cup regulars dominating every race, the media might have something else to talk about besides Danica. People are bored with the Cup regulars winning these nationwide races and are looking for something else to get excited about.

    I find it funny how I see these Nationwide commercials on tv with the Nationwide regulars like Bayne and others, but the entire broadcasts revolve around the Cup regulars. I actually think all this Danica stuff is kind of a nice diversion from the same old same old. Is it excessive? Sure is, but at least we get to see something besides Kyle, Denny, Carl and Kevin all the time.