By admin | February 27, 2010
By Richard Allen
Saturdayâ€™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 Samâ€™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, â€œNow, ESPN can actually show the race.â€
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 Danicaâ€™s day, McDowell was quick to accept â€œ100% responsibilityâ€ 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 NASCARâ€™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, â€œOur car is going to be good in the race and Iâ€™d like to thank my sponsors.â€
Of course, there is the novelty of a woman trying to make it in what has been predominately a â€œmanâ€™s worldâ€ but there are and have been other women in the sport who have attracted far less attention. Perhaps it was Danicaâ€™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, donâ€™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.
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