Hey Danica, Is This Really About NASCAR, or Just Showing You the Money?

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst IDecember 10, 2009

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 08: IndyCar driver Danica Patrick speaks as  (L), Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons (C) and Vice President and General Manager of JR Motorsports Kelly Earnhardt listen during a press conference announcing Patrick's participation in the 2010 NASCAR season on December 8, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. Patrick's first NASCAR race will be February 6th in Daytona, Florida.  (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The writing was on the wall when Roger Penske signed JR Motorsports driver Brad Keselowski, who was the hottest prospect coming out of the Nationwide series, to a three year contract before the 2009 season even came to a close.

Keselowski was being groomed to be another one of Rick Hendricks up and coming stars, before Penske stepped in, flexing his own muscles, while leaving Hendrick standing there with his jaw dropped to the floor.

You really have to wonder if this letdown in the HMS camp could have been one of the deciding factors, why Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. would go after a driver who has no experience in the NASCAR series.

NASCAR is not the NASCAR of old, and it’s really sad when popularity has taken over the integrity of what the sport was originally founded on.

It’s no longer about a driver earning his ride because of his on track performance, but instead the focus has changed to who you are and what kind of money your name can bring in away from it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is the best example of that analogy, said it best when he received his seventh most popular driver award. “My father, he gave me a hell of a gift in popularity, so my job has been to try to be an asset to the sport and to maintain that gift and its integrity.”

If there is one trait that Earnhardt Jr. learned from his stepmother Teresa as well as his own boss Rick Hendrick, it is the importance of marketing a driver and using the media to your own advantage.

Marketing has played a very huge role in today’s sport and Earnhardt, along with his partner Rick Hendrick, used the media to their advantage when they held back the announcement of Patrick coming into the series.

They dangled her just enough to give the fans a taste in November, when a picture of her at danicaracing.com loaded showing Patrick in a GoDaddy.com uniform with a Chevrolet emblem, and what appeared to be a JR Motorsports logo and the Nationwide Series logo.

The photo was later changed to her IndyCar Series uniform. Hendrick already had all the motorsports attention with Jimmie Johnson and his history making fourth championship, so he keeps her warm and the attention on his organization until the announcement, which ironically came less than a week after the awards banquet.

In today’s lucrative world of the almighty dollar, loyalty to the sport went out the door just as fast as NASCAR signed the $2.2 billion television contract in 1999 that put NASCAR in the homes of millions fans nation wide.

NASCAR was founded on a handshake that actually meant something, instead of a piece paper that is used today, which takes a rocket scientist to understand it.

It’s hard to fathom why a team would hire a driver with no experience other than the fact that she could, and will, be their next cash cow.

On one side of the coin you have NASCAR’s most popular driver as well as the HMS cash cow, and on the other side you have the IRL’s cash cow in Patrick, who only has one victory in 81 starts while entering her fifth season as an open wheel driver.

What happened to the days when drivers brought their resumes, or at least proved that they had the tools to compete in this high speed game of cat and mouse?

Playing bumper cars at 170+ miles per hour takes a lot more than this all too familiar quote, "I'm a competitive driver, and I always want to do well, and this will be absolutely no different, I think my determination and commitment are really going to be what makes this thing go well.”

Each and every driver, all the way from Paul Menard to Boris Said, have used it, and with very little results.

Driving in the NASCAR series is a lot different than the slot car she drives for the IRL, and the last time Patrick got behind the wheel of a stock car was back in 2002, and it was only for testing purposes.

So, what happens once she gets caught up in a hornet’s nest of cars as they push and shove their way to get to the front of the pack?

A race is unlike a test session, where she was the only one out on the track, and the last thing on her mind will be what happens once the laps begin to wind down, and the handling on the car quickly fades away.

There are plenty of other drivers who would have gladly accepted the ride, especially knowing that they would be in the best equipment that any team has to offer.

And if JR Motorsports was looking for a female driver to be competitive, why not take a chance on one who has driven these types of race cars?

Chrissy Wallace comes to mind who has driven a truck in the Camping World truck series, along with MacKena Bell or Megan Reitenour who are participating in the Drive for Diversity program which is also sponsored by NASCAR.

With no testing and only running a limited schedule, Patrick’s chance of having any type of success is very slim, which has to make one think if the only reason to bring her over was a famous quote from Tom Cruise, “Show me the money.”


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