Danica Patrick: Could "Danica-Mania" Be Dying a Slow Death?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJune 19, 2012

NEWTON, IA - MAY 19:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, gets ready to practice for the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 at Iowa Speedway on May 19, 2012 in Newton, Iowa.  (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

NASCAR was hanging it's hat on the GoDaddy.com girl, Danica Patrick, in hopes of bringing more attention and fans to the sport. Perhaps, that was the case for a while, but the hype is diminishing.

Patrick has now put in the equivalent of one full NASCAR Nationwide Series with 38 points' races since her debut in 2010.

Though her performance has improved, she is still consistently running out of the top 10. She has been a victim of accidents that have caused some poor finishes.

For the most part, Patrick did not cause the incidents.

Her record over the three seasons so far, reflects one top-five and four top-10 finishes. Granted, the one finish at Las Vegas of fourth was the highest finish for a female in any NASCAR National Series.

Now, her boss at JR Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is the new hot topic in NASCAR after breaking his 143-race winless streak at Michigan.

Patrick tends to run the safe line whether it be high or low on any given track. If her car is loose, she just wants it fixed and doesn't try to mix it up with contenders. But sometimes you just have to race what you have. It is still the job of a driver to take a car to the edge of what it is capable of, and Patrick often backs away from doing that.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 09:  Danica Patrick (R), driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, looks over times with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. (L) from the team hauler during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on M
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Video Play Button
Videos you might like

As a female, I would like nothing better than to see Patrick mix it up with her male competitors, go for the win and get top-10 finishes. That is what NASCAR needs.

Her crew chief added her femininity to the equation when he took issue with the way Austin Dillon caused her to get loose at Michigan causing her to spin.

David Newton with ESPN.go.com reported his comments about the male drivers not liking being beaten by a girl.

Patrick's Nationwide crew chief simply fueled a fire that she is female, therefore, the respect level is less and she will have to race harder to be considered a serious competitor. Patrick just wants to be known as a driver, not a female driver. When she puts on her driver's suit and straps on the helmet, she is just one more race-car pilot in the field.

Certainly, the driver of the No. 7 will be tested by other drivers. If she has the attitude that she is being picked on, the respect level will drop.

Eury Jr. advised his driver to put all these incidents in a safe place, so that when she gets to be a good driver, she can pay them back. What?

It is the crew chief's job to give her a car that she can race. If the car is loose, he needs to make it competitive rather than telling his driver to remember the guys who push her around.

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 13:  (R) Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #5 Degree Chevrolet, talks with Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

Patrick needs to start racing and fighting her own battles. Driving in safe mode can only be done for so long and there will be little talk about her performance. It already seems to be happening.

The driver of the GoDaddy.com car has a significant fan base, but the chatter level about whether or not she will make it in NASCAR is not as loud as it was.

Patrick cannot go out and start bumping other drivers around. She must continue to earn their respect, but to do that, she has to get in the mix and drive clean.

A road-course race is next on the agenda for Patrick. The chance of a top-10 finish at Road America doesn't look real promising, though it would be a really great if she could.

It is time for Patrick to amp up her game in the Nationwide series because we know not to expect wins in the remaining Cup races she will be running this year. Those are just for seat time.

If Patrick is expected to run with the Cup guys in 2013 and she feels she is getting pushed around in the second-tier series, then she is in for a shocker as a full-time Cup driver.

NASCAR does needs Patrick to become a leading contender with her No. 7 car. Then the media attention will once again be hot to focus on her performance.

With the Earnhardt win, the tracks are getting on the bandwagon to promote his upcoming appearance at their venue.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is doing a big promotion with a Two-For-$88 Bank of America ticket package on the front stretch. Other tracks have his picture on their websites.

Earnhardt may be running in the Cup series, but it is his name that will dominate the media because he is NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.

Patrick needs to really get in the game before her fan base erodes and those who call the races focus less and less on her presence during events.

"Danica-Mania" is still a potent force, but lackluster performance and mid-pack racing may just lead to a slow death of what looked to be the biggest thing to hit NASCAR in many a year.