Daytona 500: Danica Patrick Is Here to Stay in NASCAR

Victor GenovaContributor IFebruary 25, 2012

This won't be her first Pole Position in NASCAR...
This won't be her first Pole Position in NASCAR...Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As of Friday afternoon, February 24, and at the very least until mid-afternoon the following Saturday, Danica Patrick will be leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series points. 

What? Impossible, you say! They haven’t even raced yet. 

Yes, you are correct. But under NASCAR rules, the pole sitter earns points, and because qualifying always happens before the race, the pole sitter at Daytona will always kick off the year as the point leader. 

The NASCAR purists will argue that this doesn’t count. The rhetoric on Patrick is mixed, at best. Some want her to win in NASCAR, while others see her potential sporting and dominant commercial success as a threat to their beloved sport. I will admit that articles about her move to NASCAR have softened in the recent weeks, but it’s crap like this online forum post that has provoked me to write this piece. 

First off, let’s address her racing resume. 

Many like to point out the fact that Patrick has a single IndyCar win in 114 races. I’m happy to see that her critics have mastered basic arithmetic. While they’re relishing their newfound ability to add and subtract, I’d like to point out that Michael Waltrip, a NASCAR darling for reasons that go beyond me, went without a Winston Cup win from 1985 to 2001. And I’m sorry, but his Winston All-Star win from 1996 doesn’t count. 

This fact alone leads me to believe that Patrick can enjoy a long and prosperous career in stock cars, even if victory lane evades her. 

But results can mean little in NASCAR, so let’s skip the rest of her resume and go right to her marketability.  

Again, her naysayers will focus on her looks. Let’s be straight, she is very attractive—a feat alone that opens doors. 

I’m sure it angers people that she has posed for the men’s magazine FHM.

Those from the conservative deep South will probably lose their heads when they realize a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model could finish better than their beloved Dale Earnhardt Jr in a race—and believe me, it will happen. 

What some in the NASCAR fraternity fail to realize is that NASCAR’s corporate success—arguably greater than Formula One’s—is highly dependent on marketable individuals. 

Let’s continue picking on Waltrip. From 1986 to 2011, he managed ONLY four Cup Series wins. Percentage-wise, this is lower than Patrick’s IndyCar career. But what Waltrip lacks on the track, he makes up for off it. He’s great on TV, a relentless ambassador for his sponsors and above all, engaging and difficult not to like. This is how the man managed to stay employed, and this is also how he was able to convince UPS, NAPA and Toyota to back his foray into Sprint Cup team ownership. 

But for Patrick, this appears to be unacceptable.  

I’ve met her in person twice, and while I admit this isn’t enough to fully judge a person, I can say that her people skills might not be as strong as Waltrip’s. Asking for an autograph shouldn’t feel like I’m asking someone to violate one of the 10 commandments. 

This is all part of what I like to call the "NASCAR Economy," which in short means that your marketing success must always be greater than your on-track results to stay employed. 

Patrick might not have Waltrip’s charm, but she looks damn better in a bikini than he does in a helmet. And that alone is part of the game in NASCAR. The problem for the purists is that they’ve lived in a bubble. They do not realize that marketing has VERY few boundaries. Hell, I thought the concept of  a celebrity sex tape would be pushing it for society, but that doesn’t seem to be hindering Kim Kardashian.

Whatever. That’s beyond the point. 

Patrick is going to have critics. Even though there have been many talented female racers before her, without any disrespect, she is easily the most marketable and possibly the most talented. If we can get Simona De Silvestro into a top IndyCar seat, my view might change. But that's a separate article altogether...

If marketing weren’t a major part of the NASCAR economy, Waltrip’s career would have never made it to his 2001 Daytona 500 win, and, come to think of it, Earnhardt Jr wouldn’t have a ride.  

Let’s be honest: who wants to hire a driver who has only won a single race in the last five seasons? That’s one win in 180 races! 

Patrick’s IndyCar record was better than that.  

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