Nascar is a family, for drivers and teams and for fans. Get to a track at 7am for tailgating and behind the back of every truck, suv or car will have some form of ‘homestead’ ready to party and have a good time with their neighboring tailgaters. People share specially cooked goodies, treats, recipes and cheers or chides for their neighbors favorite driver compared to their own. With such a family and fun loving comradery, why is it that some drivers aren’t welcomed into the fold equally or as openly as others?
Fans have their favorite drivers, favorite teams and favorite owners in each of the Nascar series. They also have those they don’t like and they’d love to see hit the wall and knock themselves out of the race. I could say there are drivers fans love to hate, but no matter how much fans don’t like a driver, they don’t want to see them hurt when they do hit the wall. So you can’t say real fans hate any of the drivers in the series. As long as they don’t hit the wall and then turn down into our favorite driver or one of his team mates.
So with all that family emotion going on in the stands and outside the track, as well as in the infield; why has it been so hard for Danica Patrick to find acceptance in Nascar? Well that’s easy, she hasn’t earned it. And that’s the only real reason.
She might be one of the best female drivers in auto racing, achieving greater success than some of her predecessors, but when you look at the facts and details of her career that comment doesn’t really hold up. Racing is about winning. And one has to wonder, if you put a very talented female in the equipment that Danica has been privileged to run with, could they be equally or more successful?
Danica was the first woman to earn Rookie of the Year for both the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and for the Indycar Series overall season in 2005. But in her entire racing career she has never won a championship of any kind. That’s right, not one. She’s come close, but close doesn’t cut it. Ask Carl Edwards after his tie with Tony Stewart in 2011’s Nascar season.
She began her career racing go-karts, starting at age 10. At 16 she moved to England and earned a 2nd place finish in Britain’s Formula Ford Festival. In 2002 she returned to the U.S. and began driving in the Barber Dodge Pro Series, then Toyota Atlantic Championship series where she finished 3rd in points in 2004. But again, no wins and no championships.
In 2005 she moved to the IRL Indycar Series. She became the first female driver to lead the race at the Indianapolis 500. Ok, wow, she lead a lap. She led the lap because she stayed out while other drivers were pitting and she led 19 laps overall. Does that really count? She finished 4th in her first Indy race, ok maybe that’s impressive; but can you name who finished 3rd or 2nd? No? Yeah neither can anyone else.
She won her first pole later in the year at Kentucky, but she’s not the first woman to win the pole in Indycar. That distinction goes to Sarah Fisher in 2002, also at Kentucky. But for the 2002 season, again no wins.
Her 2006 season contains nothing really big of interest, still no wins. Her 2007 season is described as being marred by bad luck, bad pit stops, bad crew chief calls, bad a million other things. Seems like everything in that year was everyone else’s fault, but she did have 4 top 5’s, 11 top 10s, lead a whopping 17 laps on the season and finished with a career high 7th in points. Can you name who finished 6th? Yeah, again neither can anyone else.
In 2008 Patrick won at Twin Ring Motegi in the Indy Japan 300 on April 20, 2008, becoming the first woman to win an Indycar race. Her victory is described as an achievement “joining the ranks of drag racer Shirley Muldowney, who won three NHRA Top Fuel Championships”. Ok wait…Patrick wins 1 race…seriously ONE race? and she’s compared to Shirley Muldowney who won a series championship? And not just once series championship, but 3 ..count them.. 3 series championships?! Say what? Sorry but Danica’s 1 race win doesn’t even come close to 3 series championship titles!
The win in Japan was her one and only win in the series and her last win to date in any race series. 2008, that a long time ago by racing standards.
In 2011 she began splitting her time between the Indycar series and trying her hand in the Nascar Nationwide series driving for JR Motorsports. Her foray into the series was mediocre at best. The press coverage was overwhelming and fans began to get their first fill of Danica-mania. Commentators constantly reported on her position and status back in the pack over more seasoned drivers who were in the top 10. And they ignored coverage of other female drivers in the series. Until they started paying attention to fans on Twitter who complained about the lack of coverage of other qualified female drivers.
Danica gave up Indycar in 2012 and committed to a full-time schedule for Nationwide and a part-time schedule for Sprint Cup driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. She won the pole for the season-opening event at Daytona for the 2012 Nationwide season, again she’s not the first. That distinction goes to Shawna Robinson in a Busch Series event in 1994.
After Patrick’s IRL win, she was praised by many drivers, including NASCAR driver and former IRL champion Tony Stewart, who said “I think obviously she’s got talent; she’s been successful in every form of racing she’s been in so far and I don’t see why she wouldn’t be successful here [in NASCAR]”.
Now this is hard for me personally because I’m a huge Tony fan. He’s been my guy since his rookie year in 1999. And Ryan Newman is my son’s favorite. He’s 9 and has supported Ryan since his Daytona 500 win.
We want to be supportive of our guys, and their team. Especially since my Tony is the co-owner of SHR. But she’s making it so hard. I can understand the business decision behind SHR to bring her on board. She does get attention for sponsors. It’s a great business decision. And I would willing bow to his judgement of her skills and abilities, if it weren’t for the idea that this same confidence in ability could be given to other female drivers who have actually earned their place in NNS.
Most fans will admit that she has skills and some talent. But her mediocre success is the problem, not her talent. Other young drivers have shown more promise and more success, who not only deserve the same chance she has gotten, but have earned it! So let’s compare.
Johanna Long another of today’s Nascar female drivers. Yes there’s more than Danica. Haven’t heard about her? Well let’s change that. For the guys, she’s just as cute as Danica. Maybe more so to some. She simply hasn’t broadcast her body in bikini’s and seductive poses against race cars like Danica has.
Johanna began racing at 5 and at 8 she won the 2010 Snowball Derby, against pro racers even. She moved up to legends cars and then turned to late models when she was 12. In 2008 she won the Gulf Coast Championship. She also won the late model track championship at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. She began her transition into Nascar in 2009 by racing in the ASA Late Model Series, Pro Late Model and Arca series. In 38 events she had 27 top 10s, 17 top 5s and here’s the big difference 5, that’s FIVE wins! She’s certainly proven she has talent!
In 2010 she ran a limited schedule in the Camping World Truck series before the Billy Ballew Motorsports team shut down. She finished the year racing for her family’s team Panhandle Motorsports. With Ballew she qualified in all 3 races between 15th and 20th before finishing 17th, 34th and 20th respectively. With Panhandle she had a season-high 9th place qualifying spot at Texas Motor Speedway with her best finish being a 20th place at the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
After Homestead she went back to Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway for the prestigious 2010 Snowball Derby. She won that 43rd annual running of the event by holding off Nascar Driver Landon Cassill. She became the second female to win the race after Tammy Jo Kirk did it in 1994.
She competed in the Camping World Truck Series in 2011, driving the family-owned No. 20 Toyota and running for Rookie-of-the-Year honors. As with most teams, a struggle with sponsorship forced her to run a limited schedule. Her best finish was 11th at Texas Motor Speedway. She signed to drive the #70 Biomet/Foretravel Motorcoach Chevrolet, owned by ML Motorsports, in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The team plans to enter 21 of the series’ 33 races, and Long will be competing for Rookie of the Year in the series. Long finished 21st in her Nationwide Series debut at Daytona International Speedway, becoming the youngest female driver ever to compete in the series. Danica finished 38th in her first Daytona race.
The Other Women
In 2010 Nascar saw a record number of women drivers in the October running at Martinsville in the truck race, breaking a record set in 1977, when three women ran in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona.
Jennifer Jo Cobb, Amber Cope, Angela Cope and Johanna Long, all ran the race, with the highest finish going to Johanna in 22nd.
Jennifer Jo Cobb set a record in 2010 by finishing 17th in the Nascar truck series point standings. The previous highest points finish for a woman in any NASCAR series was Tammy Jo Kirk in 1997 who finished 20th in the truck series.
Tammy Jo was the first woman ever to compete in the truck series, and her best finish in a race was 11th. She ended her Nascar racing career in 2003. In 2011 Jennifer set a Nascar record by finishing 6th at the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona. And again, she’s a very pretty woman. So Danica’s looks have competition!
Racing families like Wallace, who brought us Chrissy Wallace and Derrick Cope who provides the Cope twins Amber and Angela Cope, will always support, encourage and promote their children who become interested in racing. Regardless of gender. But the big question is, do these female kids get the same chances as their male competitors? Or at the very least ask that question this way, do they get the same chances as Danica Patrick has. I think everyone needs to be honest with this question and say “No, they don’t”. Because it’s not about talent, it’s about selling products for sponsors and Danica does have that down pat. But again, is that her? Or is that the PR firm that works for her? And with that same team, we could probably say the same thing about young and lovely Johanna Long.
A Fair Comparison
Now to make a real fair comparison between Danica and other female drivers, we’d have to put all of them in the same quality equipment, Crew Chief management and team ability as Danica has received. How much better could Johanna be if she was on the same playing field as her older competitor?
The biggest difference here is that Johanna has earned the right to move through the ranks, starting in Arca, moving up to Truck and now making her shot at Nationwide. She has actual wins under her belt and she can legitimately wear a Series Championship hat that Danica can’t lay claim to.
What Danica has, is an air of entitlement. She believed she was going to come into the NNS series and compete for the championship in her rookie year. Really? After talking to her at Fontana where she ended her day with mechanical problems, pundits were quick to comment on the sound of frustration in her voice. Along with her statements dialing back her perceived change in attitude at prevailing in the series overall.
While she maybe a polarizing figure that’s “good for Nascar” and potentially brings in new followers; her entry into the field isn’t good for everyone. Her presence takes away needed screen time for other drivers who are struggling to promote their teams and attract sponsorship dollars to their teams. Her presence takes away from the other female drivers who put forth as much, if not more effort to test, practice, qualify and race week in and week out.
A few weeks ago, Nascar writer Jeff Gluck posed a challenge to Twitter followers that he would talk to and write about both Johanna and Danica. Then he’d monitor who garnered the bigger audience. Johanna won that contest and fans want to hear more about her, and less about Danica.
It’s not about who’s prettier, because all the ladies of Nascar are attractive women. It’s not about who’s nicer, though Johanna seems to have the better and more humble attitude. It’s about who has “deserves” to be in the series and has earned the right for coverage and attention. Johanna Long has that contest won…hands down!
For a bigger comparison, let’s look at Danica’s results compared to other Rookie drivers who can compete on the same level in talent, equipment and crew. Let’s compare Danica to Austin Dillon driver of the #3 Chevy owned by Morgan Shephard, team of Richard Childress Racing.
Austin Dillon’s Career Highlights and Standings reported by Nascar:
- 2011: Youngest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion in series history.
- 2010: Won NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year.
- 2010: Set NASCAR Camping World Truck Series record for most poles as a rookie with seven.
- 2008: Finished second in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, won Rookie of the Year.
|Year||Rank||Points||Starts||Wins||Top5||Top10||Avg. Start||Avg. Finish||Winnings|
Note the Championship titles in Austin’s resume? They have the same number of starts in this season, but Rookie Austin has 2 wins and 14 top 5s, along with 22 Top10s. If Danica is so great, where are her wins? Not everyone can win every week, you say. Ok, fair enough. Then where are her Top5s and why only 2 Top10s?
Danica Patrick’s Career Highlights and Standings reported by Nascar:
- 2011: Finished fourth, NASCAR national series record for highest result by a female, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in NASCAR Nationwide Series.
- 2010: Made much-anticipated debut in NASCAR Nationwide Series at Daytona in season-opener.
- 2008: First female to win a major closed-course motorsports race, IndyCar Series at Motegi, Japan.
- Highest-qualifying (fourth, 2005) and finishing (third, 2009) female in Indianapolis 500 history.
- Only female to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500.
|Year||Rank||Points||Starts||Wins||Top5||Top10||Avg. Start||Avg. Finish||Winnings|
The Bottom Line
For all that has been said about Danica, she simply doesn’t live up to the hype purported by commentators and critics. She is at best a mediocre driver who simply has a great marketing firm promoting her status. In an age where money talks, it’s her ability to sell a product for a sponsor that has garnered her entrance into the annals of race history. Not her ability to drive a car.
Nascar Fans are not stupid. Regardless of the stereotype, we are not toothless southern rednecks who can’t read or think. We’re educated people from every walk of life, in every profession from white collar to blue collar and residing in every corner of the globe. Nascar isn’t only a national past-time here in the U.S., with drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Nelson Piquet Jr., interest in Nascar has spread farther south than Georgia, Florida and Texas.
There are many mediocre drivers in the series, not all of them have a championship title, but they at least have a few wins under their belt. It’s not the personality that keeps fans from liking Danica, it’s the air of entitlement and the perspective that others have done more and accomplished more to earn their right at a shot in the series. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Stewart-Haas put Johanna Long in that upgraded equipment and discover how much she could excel at.
Until that happens, fans are going to dislike Danica for the way she got her shot. Right or wrong, there will always be people who believe she doesn’t deserve the ride.
Check out the up-date to this article: Is It Time To Evolve Our Opinion Of Danica? – 02/10/2013
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