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Is Danica the most divisive NASCAR driver since Dale Earnhardt?

By admin | May 28, 2014

 Danica Patrick stirs the emotions of many NASCAR fans.

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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20 Responses to “Is Danica the most divisive NASCAR driver since Dale Earnhardt?”

  1. Tony Geinzer Says:
    May 28th, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Taking Note Of is not the same as having a Regular Winner. I feel that even though we’ve had regular winners since Dale Sr.’s Passing, but, not that many that spurred a like it or hate it middle ground, even though certain drivers scared off a chunk of fans in a big way. Rich, I appreciate the fact your still doing NASCAR Blogs, and I think if Wins aren’t a part of Danica’s Future, it is all moot again.

  2. Anne Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Well I read till you mentioned Dale Sr. as if she was even in the same planet as him, psst. You are making a mockery to the fans of real race car drivers, they hated and loved him BECAUSE HE WAS A RACE CAR DRIVER. He had the skill and then some, SHE DOES NOT, a marketing experiment gone wrong. But yet the paid media and NASCAR ever pushing a agenda try and tell us something different from what MOST OF OUR EYES see. I don’t know what how to even say this, you seem to be trying to compare a discarded Big Mac throw from a Pinto on the 5 Freeway to a 5 Star meal at a 5 Star can’t no matter what similarities you try to conjure. The problem with Mike Joy and all the others is she does not get us excited, not one bit, a big myth they jam down your throat. Truth be told, most of us mute the TV or turn it off all together, as she and them insult true fans. From all accounts (you need to do your homework) her old racing buddies in the other circuit could not stand her, and many don’t in Nascar, good will from other drivers is show on Tv because BZF will fine em’. I love seeing stories about her being a total bitch, I would love for more to come forward. T and A is what got her to the level of where she is, marketing to sheep is the way of the world. God Bless true Nascar fans who appreciate the hard fought fight for many underfunded teams and driver (who the overwhelming majority) enjoyed success in the lower Nascar series, they just don’t happen to sell sex appeal.

  3. Bill B Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Dale Earnhardt was devisive because of his on-track methods. Danica Patrick is devisive because most fans don’t think she has the talent necessary to be in the top stock car series (but for some reason the media keeps jamming her down our throats).
    So yes they are both devisive however, if the media would stop doting on her until she does something besides show up, then a lot of that devisiveness would evaporate. If David Gilliland got as much coverage from the media he’d probably create the same type of reaction.
    The worst is probably Darrell Waltrip. I swear the guy must be on her payroll.

  4. Bryan Clark Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Just reading the comments on this article proves your point! :)

    I would have to agree with the other comments that the divisiveness of Danica among the fans is based on whether or not she has the talent to drive in the Sprint Cup or if she is simply here because she is a pretty girl.

    Kyle Busch would be the most divisive driver since Dale Sr. in my opinion. Try to find someone who doesn’t either love or hate Kyle.

  5. Al T. Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 7:54 am

    One day fans will realize that there is a difference between driving fast and racing fast. Danica has demonstrated she can drive fast. There have been few times that she has demonstrated that she can race fast. I refer to her as the Attrition Queen. She consistently beats the underfunded teams and the well funded drivers who have problems. She passes very few for position. Most advances she makes are through excellent pit stops by her crew but she normally loses those pit gained positions when the green waves. These observations have absolutely nothing to do with her gender or her bikini photos.

    Why anyone in the media thought she would set the stock car world on fire after the failures of Hornish, Montoya and others is beyond me. I do believe that she has the desire to succeed in this sport but just doesn’t possess the necessary talent to do so. Remember she is now running on tracks for the third time in a cup car and really isn’t showing any improvement. After all she is running Hendrick equipment.

  6. Mike Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 8:05 am

    ” You are making a mockery to the fans of real race car drivers, they hated and loved him BECAUSE HE WAS A RACE CAR DRIVER. He had the skill and then some, SHE DOES NOT, a marketing experiment gone wrong”

    ^^^ This ^^^

  7. Russ Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Perhaps Danica is merely symbolic of whats happening with Nascar, even motorsports in general today. The battle between those who want it the “way it used to be” and the need to attract a more diverse audience.
    And its not unique to Nascar. You are seeing the Haas entry into F1 receiving the same negative reaction in the European fan base. And for the same reason’s I suppose. Not one of the establishment, new money vs marketing, etc.
    And if either one has any success it wont be because they earned it, but outside intervention. Just human nature I suppose. But it sure does sell.

  8. Mike D Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Danica draws negative responses from long-time Nascar fans because she didn’t earn her way up thru the truck and Nationwide series. She has a full-time sponsor only because she’s female. It’s tiring as a fan to see ESPN and Fox cover her when she’s running 26th week after week, but not pay attention to drivers in 16th and 17th place. People point out that Paul Menard has a paid ride…sorry, he’s earned his way thru the ranks and is way above Danica’s talent. The question of whether it’s the crew or Danica as the reason she runs in the back of the pack weekly, let’s put Sam Hornish in that car with Tony Gibson for a month and see where it runs.

  9. GinaV24 Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 11:05 am

    If she was given the same level of media attention that her efforts and results deserved, Danica wouldn’t even come up in the discussion. When she first came into Indycar, I followed her career because it seemed that she might be competitive. Time passed, her results were nothing extraordinary but the amount of press that she received because of the GoDaddy ad campaign and her temper tantrums kept her in the spotlight. She’s great at “branding” that’s for sure but that isn’t the reason WHY I follow a driver. After all, the same can be said of Michael Waltrip - his driving prowess is not the reason he gets attention - his ability to run his mouth (a lot like his older brother) and attract sponsors is his real claim to fame. However all that can have the opposite affect.

    If Danica starts showing consistent results, I may pay attention, certainly more than I do now, when so much is made of rather mediocre showings which, if she was not female, wouldn’t even rate a comment.

  10. The Mad Man Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Danica was divisive and destructive in the IRL/IndyCar and drivers, team owners, officials, and fans were so glad when she left for NASCAR.

    She is little more than a marketing gimmick for NASCAR and is currently billed as the newest messiah supposedly going to save NASCAR from itself. And with NASCAR controlling the media, nary a bad word is said about her. You’ve got to go off the beaten path to find the unwashed, uncredentialled bloggers and writers who actually write the truth about her.

    It’s time for her to hit the bricks and go do something constructive, like hand modeling for Lava Soap using those man hands of hers or becoming a Sprint Girl so she can finally get to Victory Lane in the Cup series.

  11. Steven Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Most of the media is kissing her entitled little butt. She has a billionaire sponsor, the full power of Hendricks engineering and aerodynamics, the full force of a top management company for publicity and to generate even more money for her yet she is barely competitive. Her true personality has been exposed many times especially in her Indycar days. I abhor her and everything she represents. Smoke and mirrors, a fawning press and the drooling Waltrip. GO AWAY!!!!!! Big E would just laugh. A joke.

  12. Mike S. Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Rich, I like your writing about 99% of the time, but this time you didn’t impress me. You threw out the “sexist” card, one of the Danica fans’ favorite tools in debating those who do not worship the ground she stands on. We (those of us who don’t like her) don’t have a problem with all female drivers, just this one particular female driver. That’s not being sexist…it’s being a smart race fan.

  13. Capt Spaulding Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Someone needs to compare how many “wave arounds” she has used during the season. If she drove in Dale Sr’s era, where one had to pass the leader to get a lap back, she would be nothing more than a field filler. Not only would she have to pass other cars to advance, but she would have to pass the leaders, which up to now hasn’t happened the first time she encounters them.

  14. mazakrash Says:
    May 29th, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    She likes puppies!!!!! Is that a stretch or what. C’mon Rich.

  15. Richard Allen Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 3:15 am

    I guess sarcasm is a lost art.

  16. Nammie Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 7:00 am

    Danica has been the center of much discussion since her first day in Indy Car. She was divisive there and the trend is continuing in Na$car. She was a top 10 driver in the IRL days in top equipment but when open wheel finally united and the good drivers came from CART, she was regulated to the back half of the pack. Since her departure, Indycar has been on an upswing, especially her old team (Andretti). It’s been nice to watch races without the lap by lap Danica reports. She’s got over 100 stock car races under her belt and if a professional driver who’s been racing all their life can’t get it by now, in the best equipment in the business (Hendrick), it ain’t gonna happen. If her name was Dan, the career would have ended in karts. But as we all know in this modern age of professional motor racing (in all forms) if you’ve got a sponsor with deep pockets, and the right marketer to promote your “brand” you’ve got a ride as long as you want regardless of talent and results. THAT’S the issue that ticks off the true racing fans. Just my opinion of course.

  17. Mike Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I’ve been a Nascar fan since 1963. In 50 years of following this sport I have never seen such undeserved hatred for a driver. A common thread is that she doesn’t deserve the attention she gets. Seriously? As the only women in a male sport she will get attention whether she finishes 1st or last. Another problem some have is that she doesn’t deserve her sponsor. Go Daddy would dispute that. She is a marketing machine. She has brought Go Daddy more attention than they could possibly expect. Another issue some have is that she has limited talent. She is very talented. She is learning Sprint cup cars and is getting better on track. Harvick and Stewart believe she can drive and they know more about what it takes to race than any of the folks writing on these threads. I enjoy every driver on and wish I had the talent any of the 43 racers on the track have. If you can’t figure out why Danica deserves to be on the track, then you are probably can’t understand why the sport has to keep changing to attract new fans, hate the Chase hate Brian France and Fox Broadcasts. With all the bitching going on about Danica you would think that the thousands of new fans she brings to the sport was a bad thing. Get over it. She is here to stay. NASCAR loves the attention she gets both good and bad. She puts the sport in the spotlight.

  18. mazakrash Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Oooops. Sorry Rich. I got carried away. :o) By the way Mike, I’m not interested in marketing. I am interested in racing as a sport. She stinks.

  19. Mike Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I’m interested in racing also. Racing is better than ever and while Danica may not be a top notch driver, she has potential and will get better. She doesn’t't deserve the crap she has to take. She may never win a race, but there are many over the years who never won. I enjoy all 43 drivers on the track on Sunday all 43 of them are damn good racers.

  20. Offkilter Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I have nothing really worthy to add. I just would have preferred one of those spicey SI swimsuit pics over the evening gown pic in this article.