Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Here She Comes!!!

Did anyone think this day was not coming?

Danica Patrick, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model, highly successful advertising actress, and top 10 IRL race car driver is coming to NASCAR.

She will participate in the Nationwide series for JRM, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team with substantial Hendricks backing. Sponsorship is a done deal as both she and Junior are highly recognized sponsorship recipients from Go Daddy, who sponsors Patrick, Earnhardt’s Nationwide ride that was held by Brad Keselowski who graduates to Sprint Cup’s #12 Penske ride, and will be the full time sponsor for Mark Martin’s #5 ride for Sprint Cup.

Is this a deal made in NASCAR heaven or what?

Danica Patrick will drive car #7 with Go Daddy sponsorship for about twelve races. The races before the Indy season begins and the races after the IRL season ends with a few races interspaced during the season as IRL has more off dates.

JR Motorsports is one of the top operations in Nationwide racing with Brad Kesolowski being the top non-Sprint Cup driver in the standings the last two years.

Further, there is a likely career path that if she succeeds at this level especially considering the sponsorship alignment, she could surely be groomed to race the #5 car for Hendricks when Mark Martin retires. Ideally, she would get a couple years Nationwide experience and get to know the tracks before moving up to Sprint Cup.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains NASCAR’s most popular driver despite having completed an absolutely dreadful season that if it weren’t for bad luck he wouldn’t have had any luck at all. Whether it was driver or crew error, being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the track, or just inexplicable weird things, the #88 ride was a horror. The more attention fell on Junior’s shoulders the worse it seemed to get.

Danica Patrick is the most popular driver in the United States outside of NASCAR. Working with Dale Earnhardt Jr. unites two bright stars the media loves to go bonkers over in their coverage.

White Ms. Patrick has about the perfect setup to move into NASCAR, the pressure will be enormous. There is a yokel element that simply cannot stand the thought of a female attempting to compete in what they see as a man’s (or good old boy’s) world. Much will be made of her sexuality, the swimsuit covers, the racy ads that delight some and invoke sanctimonious moral reactions from others.

Her hard work and talent alone are what matters when she’s strapped into her ride. Success will be judged by finishing races gaining top 10’s, then top 5’s, then achieving that first win. Being able to do so consistently will be her ticket to move up to Sprint Cup.

She’s leaving an environment where she is the biggest fish in the IRL pond. She’ll be just another driver in Nationwide apart from the publicity she brings with her. Nationwide is not NASCAR’s top series, but she will bring huge attention and ESPN hopes TV ratings the series badly needs.

Open wheel drivers have participated to various degrees in NASCAR for decades with some experiencing tremendous success, some putting in cameo appearances, and others failing miserably. While the legacy of A.J. Foyt is part of NASCAR lore, Tony Stewart was well on his way to being an IRL champion, then spent a year racing for Joe Gibbs in the Busch series before moving on to Winston Cup. Patrick would hope to follow his path to success. Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya struggled when first making the switch but did not season in Nationwide first. He is now a legitimate contender. Sam Hornish and Scott Speed still have a ways to go before being considered successful. Patrick Carpentier, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were not successful. Anyone expecting overnight success for Patrick should think again.

She is also entering a sport where female competitors have not had much fortune most recently seeing Patty Moise and Shawna Robinson experience some success on the Nationwide/Busch series. Erin Crocker looked poised for success in the Truck series but her relationship with Ray Evernham among other concerns torpedoed that effort. There is no compelling reason a good woman driver with a good team can’t be a tremendous success. Danica will be the first woman who truly will have first rate equipment to prove her talents as a driver. Other female competitors at the Nationwide level never had the opportunity to drive for top flight teams. Add to the mix, her crew chief will be Tony Eury Jr. who knows a thing or two about supporting a high profile driver and dealing with extreme frustration. He could be the perfect translator to help Danica become oriented to the world of NASCAR.

We welcome Danica Patrick to NASCAR reminding her nothing will be given her and her determination and professionalism are essential to her success. We also send out this message to some on the lunatic fringe, those who traffic in denigrating Danica Patrick for the sake of being a gorgeous female in what had been a man’s business, any sexist demeaning behavior will not be tolerated.

Danica’s entrance into NASCAR will make this February one of the most anticipated season openings in Daytona ever. How much attention will be on Jimmie Johnson racing for his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship versus Patrick’s arrival can surely already be predicted. It will be Danica, Danica, Danica!!!!

Frankly, we can’t wait.

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