Danica Patrick to race Nascar

Posted: December 19, 2009 in Uncategorized

danica

nascar

Patrick isn’t the magic pill to fix all that ails NASCAR, but she sure can relieve a few symptoms and buy some time to find the cure.

They are selling the sizzle, not the steak. At least for a while. Patrick’s dip into the NASCAR waters is a shot in the arm that the sport needs. “I’m finally ready,” Patrick said at her news conference Tuesday in Phoenix. “The [NASCAR] schedule doesn’t intimidate me as much as it used to. There were rumors a few years ago, and it was a thought. But I was not quite as prepared mentally as I am now.

“I’ve got a lot to learn, but I have good people around me. We’re ready to go.”

The economy took a toll on NASCAR in 2009. Attendance was down at most events. And Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s No. 1 star, was a complete nonfactor in the worst season of his career.

Now the two most recognizable names in American auto racing are paired, with Patrick driving a partial schedule for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team.

Earnhardt and Patrick are not the best drivers. They never will be. But that misses the point. These two drivers are the biggest names that draw the most attention.

Want proof? All you have to do is look at the headline news box on the ESPN.com NASCAR page.

Nine stories are listed. Two of those have four times as many comments about them as all the rest — the ones about Patrick completing her NASCAR deal and Earnhardt being named the most popular driver for the seventh consecutive season.

Some of the people commenting below those stories are happy while others are angry, but none is indifferent.

So teaming Patrick and Earnhardt is NASCAR gold. Some people believe it’s fool’s gold. Patrick has one victory in five IndyCar seasons. Earnhardt hasn’t won a race in more than two years.

That makes Patrick a flash in the pan for NASCAR and Earnhardt a never-was for his Cup career.

Again, whether those thoughts are true or false doesn’t matter. NASCAR just became relevant to millions of people who couldn’t have cared less about stock car racing two days ago.

Patrick is a national celebrity beyond racing. So is Earnhardt, although he won’t be directly involved in Patrick’s NASCAR effort. His sister, Kelley Earnhardt, who runs JR Motorsports, will handle most of it along with a legion of public relations reps.

But linking those names is a big deal.

“It obviously put us in a great spotlight,” Kelley Earnhardt said. “They have a lot of similarities on how they connect and resonate with the fans. There are a lot of things you can do from a marketing standpoint.”

Kelley said both her daughters — ages 9 and 4 — are Patrick fans, but not because they watch Indy car races. They see Danica in teen magazines and on Barbie doll displays.

Patrick is part of American pop culture. If you asked the first 10 people you saw on a street in Cleveland “Who is Danica Patrick?” I’m betting nine could tell you. Ask those same 10 people “Who is Jimmie Johnson?” I’m betting less than half could tell you.

Good luck

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