By admin | May 28, 2014
By Richard Allen
Believe it or not, Danica Patrick has been at the center of much discussion lately in the NASCAR world. After her top-10 finish in Kansas and her top-5 qualifying effort for the Coca-Cola 600, many fans and media have again taken sides to debate just what those results actually mean. Further, after she failed to earn a spot in the Sprint All Star Race two weeks ago and subsequently did not receive the fan vote, her name came up again among the hot topics from the time NASCAR spent in Charlotte.
Obviously, the “believe it or not” part of the opening sentence in this column was placed there for the purpose of inserting a little sarcasm in this piece. As a matter of fact, Danica is almost certainly the most talked about driver in the history of the sport who has never even once finished inside the top-5 of a Sprint Cup race. The mere mention of her name is quite likely to stir debate as fans and media immediately take sides.
As a matter of fact, I’m not sure there has been a more divisive driver in this sport since Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was steering his way to seven championships. Granted, due to the circumstances that tragically ended his life, many stories regarding Earnhardt today are positive ones. But remember that such was not always the case.
During the 1980s and 1990s, bringing up Earnhardt’s name among a group of NASCAR fans was all one had to do to get a lively debate going. Folks either loved him or despised him. There was no middle ground, no gray area. When it came to ‘The Intimidator’, everyone took sides.
Earnhardt has been frequently quoted as saying that he wasn’t concerned about being booed during driver introductions. He would wryly say, “I’d only be worried if they just sat there and didn’t do anything.”
Well, think about what happens when Danica’s name comes up in the midst of a NASCAR conversation today. Those same types of reactions occur. Everyone takes sides on the sport’s most prominent female driver. She has actually challenged the seemingly invincible Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as NASCAR’s most popular driver and top souvenir seller, yet no driver’s misfortune on the track is met with more jokes and snarky Twitter and Facebook posts than Ms. Patrick’s.
Now, take note. I am not saying that Danica is as good of a driver as Earnhardt. That’s not even debatable. I’m saying she causes a stir in much the same way he did, albeit for different reasons.
Danica seems nice enough. She had a couple of often referred to temper tantrums during her IndyCar days, but her NASCAR career has been one of congeniality for the most part. She is often seen posing for photographs with children and other fans. She is part of a high profile relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. And according to one piece I read a few days ago, she even likes puppies.
Even with all that, there is a significant number of NASCAR followers who revel in her failures. Whether it be because of gender or the often overwhelming amount of publicity she receives, there are some who just don’t want her to succeed. But as Earnhardt used to point out, at least they have an opinion.
Compared to other modern day NASCAR stars, Danica is more divisive than most. Even with all his success, Jimmie Johnson doesn’t really stir impassioned debate among all NASCAR fans. Jeff Gordon used to cause a stir, especially when he was seen as Earnhardt’s chief rival, but he seems to have mellowed in recent years and fans are beginning to offer him the type of courtesy that often accompanies legends as they wind their careers down. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is very popular, but the guy seems so likeable that he doesn’t have that large contingent of ‘haters’ to oppose those who are endeared to him.
Danica has many who believe in and like her. At the same time, she has many who feel the opposite way. But there are very few racing fans have no opinion at all on her.
Fox Television announcer Mike Joy recently said that fans ask him why his voice shows such excitement when Danica does something positive on the track. His reply was that, “She is just one of those drivers that everybody takes note of.” Whether it be for better or worse, that seems to be true of most every NASCAR fan as well. And there haven’t been many, or even any, drivers like that since Dale Earnhardt, Sr.
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