It seems like wherever I go these days, I cannot escape Danica Patrick.
This morning, while attending class at Boston University, I listened to a presentation on sexuality in the media by Dr. Patrice Oppliger, one of our assistant professors of communication. She noted that many female celebrities, as they grow out of young adulthood, use sex as a way to keep the public's attention on them, citing Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Miley Cyrus as three prominent examples.
All was well until one of my classmates asked a question about wanting "to be taken just as seriously in the office in a miniskirt as in pants." In response to this question, Danica came up as an example of a prominent celebrity who wants to be taken seriously, but still has no problem doing Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoots.
Right then, right there, I decided that I had had it with Danicamania.
Danica Patrick has been more celebrity than race car driver ever since she first signed with the newly-rechristened Andretti Autosport, back in 2007. Blame it on the GoDaddy ads, blame it on the IndyCar Series using her as their only real marketing tool, blame it on whatever else you'd like, but she is no longer a race car driver first.
She is a celebrity and a brand first, and a race car driver second, and that's a problem.
I'm sick of the fact that everybody is making a big deal about her supposed jump to the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, after a graphic of her in a JR firesuit appeared briefly on the web yesterday. Since when have we cared this much about the Nationwide Series? Have we ever?
Even more troubling, since when have we cared this much about a driver who has never shown the ability to consistently win?
That's the one difference between Danica and her closest parallel in NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr., her potential Nationwide owner. We all know that they're both highly overrated by an adoring public. But Junior has won races - plural. Danica hasn't.
Both have had segments of their careers where they have been in top-flight equipment, albeit not quite as good as some of the other cars out there. Junior has 40 wins in NASCAR's top two series, now known as Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series, although he has struggled recently.
With the sheer amount of Cup drivers moonlighting in Nationwide, and their general dominance of the series, with at least 15 Cup drivers entered in the majority of the races, I am calling those wins just as legitimate for the sake of argument. Bear with me.
To put Junior's statistics in those two series in perspective, note that Jimmie Johnson has 48 combined wins, Kevin Harvick has 46, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart have 45 apiece, and Carl Edwards has 41. All of these drivers, except for Busch and Edwards, entered NASCAR at around the same time. Overrated as he may be, Junior isn't that far off NASCAR's best when looking at his career statistics.
He's performed on the track while also establishing himself off of it, running one of the better teams in the Nationwide Series and launching the career of "next big thing" Brad Keselowski.
As for Danica? Well, she has one win, which came on an IndyCar-Champ Car split weekend, and it was cemented by fuel mileage. She's improved in the points every year, and was the best non-Penske or Ganassi driver in the IndyCar standings last year, but that's about it for her accomplishments on the track. I don't think I need to describe her "brand."
Patrick's one win in 81 big-league starts yields a winning percentage of 1.23. In 476 combined Sprint Cup and Nationwide starts, Junior has a winning percentage of 8.4. And let's not forget the two championships Junior won in 1998 and 1999 driving in NASCAR's No. 2 series. Patrick never won any races in the Toyota Atlantic Series, neve rmind championships.
The fact of the matter is, at least Juniormania has some stats to back it up.
I know that Danica Patrick isn't Milka Duno, running ten miles an hour off the pace in every race she enters. I know that she's more than just eye candy, that she's led laps at Indianapolis and whatnot.
I also know that stereotypes about racing exist, including that it takes no talent, the fans are a bunch of idiots who choose favorite drivers based on long-standing loyalties, the only drivers that matter are the marketable ones, and so on and so forth.
But I'm a racing fan, not a marketing fan. I don't think I'm the only one. I grew up before the racing series put more into marketing the products off the track than the racing product on the track, and I know when a driver deserves the publicity that they are receiving.
Sorry, Danica, you're not a winner.
I want to see a commitment to the race car first and a commitment to the celebrity second. I think the real reason why Junior has been suffering recently is because his celebrity began to outrun his on-track performance, and thus he lags behind the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Before the plethora of marketing deals he inked over the past few seasons, Junior was one of the best drivers in NASCAR.
If Danica refocuses on driving the IndyCar and forgets about her celebrity for a while, she'll be a much better race car driver. She'll win races. She'll earn a NASCAR contract if she wants it by bringing more to the table than just her sponsorship dollars.
And when all is said and done, we'll be able to look back on her career and say "Wow, there's a driver who really accomplished a lot."
Until then, have fun with your hype, everybody. I'm done with Danicamania.