Anyone who has been to the racetrack has seen the spectacle of the 43 brightly colored stock cars spinning around.
But at the 55th Daytona 500, even as the traditional blue 48 drove its way to Victory Lane, much of the attention was on the lime green No. 10.
Other women had lined up for Daytona before like Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson, but Danica Patrick has created a media blitz like no one else.
There are reasons Danica’s attempt to break the gender barrier in NASCAR is different. She’s got the financial backing from web hosting giant GoDaddy. What’s more, she’s got three-time champ Tony Stewart in her garage. This all proved to be legit when Speedweeks opened with her winning the pole position.
And though Patrick didn’t quite know how to finish at the end and dropped to eighth at the line, staying in the top five for most of the race may have convinced a number of people that yes, maybe Danica can run with the boys.
It’s one race, and Daytona is like no other. It will be the coming weeks to see if Patrick can handle more open racing at the intermediate tracks with no restrictor plates, to say nothing of the banging style of a short track like Bristol.
But Danica at the very least has already given NASCAR something it desperately needed.
Attendance and ratings have plummeted at racing events for years now, as it looked like the bubble burst on NASCAR’s popularity. The many empty seats at Texas Motor Speedway last November were painful, especially given how tight the championship race was at the time.
Not even the best possible finish in 2011, which I believe was the first time a driver won the final race to win the championship, could spike interest.
But now NASCAR may have found its carrot for the fans and media. And this time, it’s a more positive one.
The last spike in attention the sport got came from Dale Earnhardt’s tragic 2001 death, drawing the crowds who were fascinated in the the prospect that people could die in this sport. BUt as NASCAR rightfully worked to make their cars safer, the body count never emerged, and those fans filtered out.
Now, the national media is back, this time to focus on someone who can take the game farther rather than someone who tragically left it too soon.
Danica can definitely project a better image than a mangled car. And despite standing under five feet, she definitely has no problem standing out in a crowd.
Which of course, brings up the other topic – the argument of eye candy.
People are going to argue that many are just cheering for a hot little number in a fire suit. I’ll counter that with the several females who became Jeff Gordon fans not just for his rise to dominance on the track.
If Danica doesn’t win, she’ll eventually fade out like Anna Kournikova did in tennis, no matter how many bikinis she appears in.
But win or lose, Danica Patrick has already helped turn the focus back onto NASCAR for at least one year.
And like it or not, there surely be a lot of lime green appearing in the stands of a track near you this season.