The Daytona 500 is NASCAR's biggest race of a 37 race season so it's natural that it also attracts a large media contingent. Indeed most of the coverage in the U.S. is extensive but it's also worldwide. Danica Patrick was not racing in the Daytona 500 but she was a part of Speedweeks 2010 racing the ARCA Racing Series and the Nationwide Series as well. Most of the media corps was in place for the 500 and it seemed like most of them followed Patrick the days before the big race.
Some privileged fans and team members have pit road access and it seemed like most of them swarmed Patrick also. Danica Mania developed.
ARCA and short track stock car racer Jill George raced with Patrick in Daytona and had thoughts about her presence.
"I think it's great," George said. "If Danica stays and if you get any other female here doing good, you're going to be looked at. I feel sorry for her a little bit, because she can't even go to the bathroom without someone following her. It puts a lot of pressure on her, but I think it's all good for the sport."
Fast forward from Florida's East Coast to the West Coast from a huge and long Daytona track to the quiet harbor side streets of St. Petersburg morphed into a twisting racing grid with more turns and walls than freeway interchanges.
Patrick will be only one of many IZOD IndyCar drivers hoping to excel during the challenging road course weekend. She will race the full IZOD IndyCar 2010 Series and many NASCAR Nationwide races that don't conflict with her schedule.
Eddie Cheever, a seasoned open-wheel champion, described Patrick's skills and position.
"She's a great driver," Cheever said. "I questioned her ability to be able to compete consistently when she arrived in the IRL. She's totally proven me and a bunch of other people wrong. I do not think it would be mission impossible for her to do well in Cup racing, but it would be a project, a lot of testing, racing in Nationwide, a whole bunch of humble pie. But I know she has the ability and I think she has the physical stamina to train enough to do it."
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart agreed.
"Nobody knows whether she can do it until she gets out and tries," Stewart said. "This is not a sport and a series where you're just going to show up once in a while and be good. Obviously, she's gotten where she is because she has a ton of talent. It's not something that you can kind of sneak up on. You've either got to do it or not do it."
Whether the media frenzy follows Patrick to St. Petersburg will be known soon, but what is known is that an exciting race will transform slow streets by a quaint harbor into fierce competition where sleek and loud IndyCars chase a win around sharp turns.
Honda Indy St. Pete 2010, March 26-March 28, features USF2000, Star Mazda, Firestone Indy Lights, and IZOD IndyCar Series.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com