Junior Nation: Is It Threatened by Danica Patrick's Popularity?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2012

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 04:  Danica Patrick speaks at a press conference unveiling her #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season following practice for the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The agonizing wait for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win a race continues to test Junior Nation, as his winless streak reached 134 at Fontana. Certainly, hope springs eternal and an upcoming win would seem inevitable.

There is little doubt it will take a major personality to threaten the status of the nine-time reigning Most Popular Driver in NASCAR.

Oddly, the one person who has made her fame and fortune in motorsports without doing much winning, drives for Earnhardt.

Danica Patrick dabbled in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for two seasons before making her full-time move to NASCAR. She drives the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

Patrick, 30, may be better known as the GoDaddy.com girl than as a highly skilled race car driver, but she does have impressive statistics in the IndyCar series and NASCAR.

Though she has yet to win a NASCAR race, she is the highest finishing female driver in NASCAR's top national series with her fourth place finish in a Nationwide race at Las Vegas in 2011.

Earnhardt's goal with JR Motorsports is to bring young drivers up from other series and hopefully provide an avenue that takes them to NASCAR's top level.

Brad Keselowski is one such driver who really stepped up his game in the years since he drove for JR Motorsports.

Patrick was certainly an anomaly to Earnhardt's program because she was well known as an IndyCar driver and of course as the GoDaddy.com representative.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  (L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, speaks to Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #5 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet, prior to winning the Coors Light Pole Award and qualifying for the pole position for th
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Patrick's alignment with the strong sponsorship of GoDaddy.com is a bonus any car owner would welcome.

Earnhardt recognizes the ability of the driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet and just as he has to deal with notoriety, he understands the adjustments Patrick has to make with the attention she garners.

During the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour in Charlotte this past January, Earnhardt stated, "Can't give Danica any advice. She's been around racing a long time and she is doing a good job."

The presence of Patrick is welcomed by Earnhardt and he finds her intense with racing, but a lot of fun to be around.

The goals of Patrick in the Nationwide series are top 10's and hopefully a few top-five finishes with a win not out of the question. In the 10 Cup races she plans to run, she just needs to finish the races.

Tony Stewart owns her No. 10 Cup Chevrolet, though she is racing out of Tommy Baldwin Racing during the 2012 season, sharing the car with David Reutimann.

Stewart stated, "In the short amount of time I've worked with her, she's so good at processing information. What she learns on the track, she can explain it to you right away and very accurate."

Patrick did not make the move from IndyCar racing on a lark. She tested the waters and found that she really enjoys the NASCAR environment and driving the heavier stock cars.

HOLLYWOOD - OCTOBER 06:  Racecar driver Danica Patrick attends the Auto Club Speedway and Tissot Event at Voyeur on October 6, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Patrick said, "It's kind of a relief on me to just focus on NASCAR. I have a lot to learn. With more racing, comes more expectations to do well and I want to do that."

She knows that many people watch her and wait for her to fail with NASCAR, but she also knows that she has attracted a considerable fan base.

Patrick said, "I've been around for a long time. There's going to be people that like you and there will be those that don't like you." She also understands there is a group of people who could care less.

Competition in NASCAR is based on drivers honing their skills until they become winners and champions at the highest levels. Fans of the sport thrive on cheering for or against certain drivers.

Patrick stated, "I think it is important in sports to have people who cheer for you and against you. It's important that there is two sides to the story."

She doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about those who doubt her ability, but she hopes that as she progresses in NASCAR, she will change the negativity some people feel towards her.

The petite, attractive driver embraces her femininity despite the criticism that has been dished out over her somewhat racy GoDaddy.com ads.

Patrick stated, "I do what feels comfortable to me. With the GoDaddy commercials, we have a lot of fun with them and not just GoDaddy. I look pretty for ads for other people too."

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 02:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, looks on prior to practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 2, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Tyler
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

Patrick continued, "I'm a girl and to say that I can't use being a girl doesn't make any sense. In this world there is so much competition out there, that you have to use what you have to make sponsors happy."

Earnhardt has great commercial value, some of which he shares with Patrick, as exemplified by the Nationwide Insurance commercials.

Junior attracts female fans who find him very appealing, but his fame and fortune is NASCAR based.

To satiate Junior Nation, he just needs to show up for a race, but to keep his legions strong, he needs to run well and start winning races.

There are many indicators that point to the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet being close to a win with his strong finishes this season, though that is only five races.

Patrick is not expected to contend for Cup wins this season, but she would be happy to get a top-20 finish. The goal this year is to get comfortable in the car and just finish the races.

Many in NASCAR believe she will adapt well and contend for wins as she gains seat time. The fact that she brings media attention and new fans to the sport is a welcomed bonus.

Earnhardt is secure with his status as the most popular driver in NASCAR and if he wins races again, the attention he will draw from fans and media will be icing on the Junior Nation cake.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 27, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Get
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Patrick will come into her own as a driver, but her ultimate success level can't fairly be assessed this early in her stint with NASCAR.

Patrick will continue to flaunt her femininity in commercials, but as a driver she prefers to just be known as a competitor. Calling attractive female athletes "sexy" is a term she prefers not to hear.

So to answer the topic of this article, Patrick is not a threat to Junior Nation. Both drivers have their own fan bases and detractors as well.

Patrick's presence can only be good for NASCAR just as Earnhardt and Junior Nation have impacted the sport.

The ideal scenario would be to see them both racing against the best in the sport and each other. Winning by either driver is good for NASCAR and great for their fans.

Quotes used in this article were obtained in person or by official press releases.

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