Danica Patrick and the 15 Most Fan-Friendly Non-Sprint Cup Drivers

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2012

Danica Patrick and the 15 Most Fan-Friendly Non-Sprint Cup Drivers

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    Highly recognizable personalities often become household names and, such is the case with certain drivers in NASCAR that receive considerably more media attention than others, resulting in a relationship of sorts with the fans.

    Some drivers are just personable and fan-friendly despite their level of success in NASCAR. Other drivers garner so much attention that it hampers their ability to interact with fans.

    Depending on the personalities of certain drivers and their driving style, a love-hate relationship may develop. Fans sometimes just plain love to hate a select group of drivers.

    Overall, drivers in the top national series of NASCAR realize just how important the fans are to the sport and they make every attempt to appreciate that support.

    In this slideshow we will look at drivers from the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series who are popular with fans and for the most part considered to be very fan-friendly.

    Some within this list may also drive in Cup, but they are running for points in the second and third tier of NASCAR racing.

Danica Patrick

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    It was no light-hearted decision for Danica Patrick to make the jump from the IZOD IndyCar Series to NASCAR after a two-year partial schedule in the Nationwide cars.

    What really tipped the scales to driving stock cars was the fact she likes to drive them and the environment of NASCAR, drivers, owners, teams, sponsors and, of course, the fans.

    Patrick is not only a driver, but a commercial product as well, primarily as the GoDaddy.com Girl. She is highly recognized and has quickly become one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR.

    Patrick has fans of all ages, male and female, clamoring for a chance at a photo opportunity or perhaps an autograph.

    It is a bit of a double-edged sword for drivers, who for a plethora of reasons are pulled in many directions by their handlers in addition to performing their jobs. 

    The many obligations detract from time they would like to give to fans. Despite limited time for fan interaction, Patrick truly appreciates her fans and respects her detractors as well.

Elliott Sadler

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    Virginia native Elliott Sadler just wasn't finding the success he wanted at the Cup level, so he made the move back to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in an attempt to capture a title.

    The driver of the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing was runner-up in points during 2011 and currently he is atop the series standings.

    Sadler is a popular driver who fans seem to gravitate to because he is just a nice guy and a very capable race car driver.

Kenny Wallace

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    Kenny Wallace is the youngest of three brothers who have all made NASCAR the focus of their careers. This Wallace is popular perhaps more because of his fun-loving, comedic attitude than his racing accomplishments.

    He currently drives the No. 09 Toyota for RAB Racing in the Nationwide Series. Wallace turns very serious though when it comes to driving a race car.

    Last fall at Texas Motor Speedway, he made his 520th start in the series which made him the all-time starts leader.

    Wallace is a talented driver, but he has lacked quality equipment to make him a strong contender throughout his career.

    His popularity is enhanced by his on-air presence with SPEED.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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    Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and driver of the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing. He is fresh from a win at Las Vegas heading into Bristol.

    Stenhouse is one of the leaders in the group of young guns that will one day be the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

    He attracts the younger demographics to the sport with his good looks, outgoing personality and obvious talent as a driver.

Johanna Long

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    Danica Patrick may garner the media attention in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but Johanna Long is a talented 19-year-old female driver who may be lurking in the wings to become a contender.

    Long drives the No. 70 Chevrolet in the second-tier level of NASCAR. She has a strong background in late models, having won the prestigious 2010 Snowball Derby in Pensacola.

    Long has driven in the Camping World Truck Series, but looks to be adapting well to the Nationwide cars on a limited schedule.

    This is a driver who attracts fans because she is young, easy on the eyes and a very serious racer. She is an inspiration for other females looking to move up from local tracks to the top series.

Ron Hornaday

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    Ron Hornaday, 53, was the 1992 Southwest Tour Series champion and Most Popular Driver. That year, he made the move to the Cup Series, where he has had the least success in NASCAR.

    Hornaday has been the Most Popular Driver in both the Busch (Nationwide) Series and Camping World Truck Series. He also has four Truck series championships with 51 wins.

    Hornaday is an old-school driver who is respected by his fellow drivers and has attracted a significant fan base over the years. He is easy to talk to and very fan-friendly.

    Currently he drives the No. 9 truck for Joe Denette Racing.

Austin Dillon

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    Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, is the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.

    Now, Dillon has made the full-time move to the Nationwide Series as the wheelman for the black No. 3 Chevrolet out of the RCR stable.

    Dillon is another of the young drivers who are the future stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He is popular because he is well-spoken, good-looking and very talented as a driver.

    The fact that he is driving the No. 3 made famous by another Richard Childress Racing driver known as the "Intimidator" does not hurt his popularity.

Todd Bodine

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    Todd Bodine, nicknamed the "Onion," is the youngest and perhaps the most popular of the Bodine brothers who were also racers in NASCAR.

    Currently he drives the No. 11 Toyota for Red Horse Racing, but sponsorship may prove problematic to his racing schedule.

    Bodine has raced in the top-three series of NASCAR, but has found the most success in the Camping World Truck Series, where he has two championships and 21 wins.

    This is a driver who has had some controversial moments, but overall he is a personable driver who is liked by fans.

Justin Allgaier

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    Justin Allgaier, nicknamed "Little Gator," is the driver of the No. 31 Brandt Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

    During the 2011 season, he finished third in the Nationwide point standings. His statistics are impressive with two wins and 50 top-10 finishes out of 111 races.

    He is not the most extroverted driver, but he is a very likable and talented driver with a lot of potential to continue to be one of the rising stars headed to the Cup Series.

Ty Dillon

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    Ty Dillon is the other racing grandson of Richard Childress and brother of Austin Dillon. He drives the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

    The 2012 season is his first full-time season with the Truck Series. In the four starts he has, including three in 2011, he finished in the top five one time and the three times in the top 10.

    Dillon is more low-key than his older brother.  He is well-spoken and very respectful with close family ties that should propel him to success in NASCAR.

    As a driver of the No. 3 Chevy, he will attract fans, but his clean-cut good looks and personality combined with his talent make him a fan favorite who will gain popularity as he gains experience.

Sam Hornish Jr.

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    Sam Hornish Jr. came from the IndyCar Series, where he won championships and the title of Most Popular Driver in 2004.

    Hornish came to the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Penske Racing in 2006 for a few races. He has run in the Cup series as well, but found little success.

    With a loss of sponsorship, this driver wondered if he he would be back in a race car for 2012 after sitting out most of 2011.

    This popular driver has secured strong sponsorship with Alliance Truck Parts for his Penske No. 12 Dodge which he will drive full time in 2012.

    Hornish has also become an on-air personality for SPEED and looks to be a strong competitor this season.

Trevor Bayne

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    Trevor Bayne came to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2009, but got his big break when he was signed by Jack Roush in 2010.

    Bayne is best known as the stunning winner of the 2011 Daytona 500 and he still drives a partial Cup schedule for Wood Brothers Racing.

    Currently, Bayne is driving the No. 60 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing in the Nationwide series, but lack of sponsorship may hamper his ability to run a full schedule.

    This driver doesn't hesitate to show his humility, despite being a winner of the "Great American Race." He is likely to be a future star in the Cup Series.

    Fans like him for his outgoing personality, strong values and clean-cut looks in addition to his ability to wheel a race car with the top drivers.

Mike Wallace

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    Mike Wallace is the older brother of Kenny Wallace and driver of the No. 01 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

    Last season, he finished 13th in points and crossed the 400-start milestone. Wallace has more than 700 starts in the top-three series of NASCAR. His success has been limited so far as wins.

    Wallace is highly respected by his peers as a clean racer who can be trusted on the track. As a member of the racing Wallace family, he understands the importance of fans.

Jennifer Jo Cobb

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    Jennifer Jo Cobb, 38, made her way through other series including ARCA and began racing in NASCAR's Busch Series in 2004.

    Currently she fields her own team with the No. 10 truck in the Camping World Truck Series and runs a limited Nationwide schedule with the No. 13 Dodge.

    Cobb was the highest finishing female in the NASCAR Truck series with a sixth place finish at the NextEra Energy Resources 250 in 2011.

    Cobb is popular not only because she is working hard to make her mark as a female racer, but because she works so hard to make races and secure sponsorship.

    She is a driver who would have much better statistics if she had more funding which equates to faster equipment.

Joe Nemechek

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    Joe Nemechek debuted in NASCAR's second-tier series in 1989. Currently he fields the No. 87 Nationwide car and No. 87 Cup car out of NEMCO Motorsports, which he owns.

    During the 2011 season, this owner/driver finished 14th in the Nationwide Series points and is currently 11th in the 2012 points.

    Nemechek is a respected driver who works hard to maintain his small teams. despite limited sponsorship.

    This driver is popular with fans not only because he is a genuine nice guy, but because he does so much with so little and he has done it for so long.

Travis Pastrana

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    Travis Pastrana is one of the most fan-friendly drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series who has yet to run a race in the series.

    Pastrana was scheduled to begin racing his No. 99 Boost Mobile Toyota for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing in 2011, but his accident at the X Games in Los Angeles delayed his Nationwide debut.

    His first race is scheduled for April 27 at Richmond and he will run at least six other Nationwide races. Pastrana is also running the K&N Series.

    This driver appeals to the demographics that NASCAR is trying to attract. His accomplishments with extreme sports and rally racing have drawn in fans referred to as "Pastrananation."