By admin | May 20, 2009
By Richard Allen
This is the biggest weekend of the racing year. The Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 are scheduled to run on the same day. In all, approximately 600,000 fans will be in attendance at the two venues and millions more will watch on television.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Danica Patrick are the two biggest stars in their respective racing organizations. They are the two biggest stars in terms of notoriety and commercial appeal. They are the two biggest stars in terms of being cheered by large crowds and selling souvenirs.
On the other hand, these are not the two biggest stars in their respective organizations in terms of winning races and championships. Neither has won a championship at the highest level of their sport. Race wins have not come frequently either.
The only wins these drivers have to show for their recent efforts are two fuel mileage gambles that happened to pay off in their favor.
Last year, Junior scored his only victory of the season while driving for power team Hendrick Motorsports by coasting across the finish line in Michigan on fumes. It was his first win since leaving Dale Earnhardt, Inc. For that matter it was his first Sprint Cup win since 2006.
Last year, Danica became the first woman to ever win a top division race, other than in drag racing(by top division I mean Sprint Cup, IndyCar, F1 or NHRA). She claimed the checkered flag in Japan last season driving for Andretti Green Racing. It was her second year driving for that team. She had driven for a team co-owned by Bobby Rahal and television host David Letterman in the earlier years of her career.
In 2008, Junior finished 12th in the Sprint Cup standings while Danica placed 6th in the IndyCar overall standings.
With all that said, however, each of the drivers could conceivably win this weekend and thus claim prized jewels in their respective racing endeavors.
So, who has the better chance of winning this weekend? Will Dale Earnhardt, Jr. claim the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte? Will Danica Patrick take the Indianapolis 500? Can both win on the same day? Or, does neither have a chance at victory?
For my part, Dancia has the best chance to win this weekend. The Indy 500 often turns into a war of attrition. She drives for a good team and could simply outlast her competitors.
With the exception of the restrictor plate race in Talladega, Junior and his team have not shown the ability of late to get through a race with a car capable of running in the front or without making a major mistake.
However, I would not list either as a favorite, except in the grandstands.
Bottom line, both of these drivers have more impressive followings than resumes. Both are surrounded by tremendous hype.
One or both of them can take a step toward deserving that recognition this weekend. Will either?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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