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Danica May Be the Best Thing to Happen to NASCAR

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.

NASCAR may soon face a huge left turn

Brad Kezelowski had reveal million reasons to be thankful this weekend – including one very large trophy. Meanwhile, several NASCAR fans had could be thankful for some parity in their sport at last.

For the first time in eight years, someone not named Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart took home stock car racing’s biggest prize, as Kezelowski coasted to NASCAR’s Cup championship. Roger Penske got to celebrate with him, as the owner with such success in open-wheel racing finally saw one of his cars finish first in a sport dominated by the likes of Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush and Richard Childress.

Is this a sign of things changing in the biggest racing organization in the Americas? It may very well be changing, whether they want to admit it or not. As Penske and Kezelowski celebrate, some of the aforementioned big boys may be struggling to find companies to adorn their cars over the next few years – unless that admit they can’t get the money they want anymore.

Just a couple of years after Stewart and Carl Edwards got record sponsorship deals from the likes of Office Depot and Aflac, other sponsors are suddenly backing out. For the first time in his career, Jeff Gordon won’t have Dupont on his car. The U.S. Armed Forces have pulled sponsorship from all their branches.

What has happened? Simply put, the owners got too greedy, and sponsors are starting to say enough is enough.

As NASCAR reached its heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s, the biggest racing teams were getting $20 million dollars for their cars. But as “Crash Gladys” of the “Speedfreaks” show on Dallas’ 105.3 The Fan reported some months ago, the truth is starting to come out: No one needs $20 million to run a racing team.

The owners were skimming off the top, using large portions of this dollars to enrich their own lives with multi-million dollar houses and private jets.

Gone were the days where the sponsorship dollars were used exclusively to fund the car and the profit came from the purse won at the track. And it’s a far cry different from the old-school NASCAR fan’s image of drivers and crew chiefs building cars in their home garage.

And as ticket prices rose as many Americans saw their personal income decrease over these years, fewer and fewer people started showing up at he track. Even the fall race in Texas, one of NASCAR’s most consistent big draws, had numerous empty seats for a race in one of the sport’s tightest chases ever.

Now, it appears that sponsors are taking charge and declaring: $20 million to put a logo on a race car just isn’t good business sense anymore.

WIthout getting too political or economical (that’s not what you come to a blog like this for), NASCAR seems to be reflecting a lot of businesses and their struggles. The teams are losing money while the owners try to grub it.

If the Hendricks and Roushes of the racing world don’t learn that they can’t soak their sponsors while skimming off the top, they may find it very very difficult to get anyone to fund t heir teams at all. Johnson and Edwards are great drivers, but they won’t be able to get by if suddenly they can’t get funding to build their cars.

The big question, though, is how this will affect the smaller teams. Will NASCAR’s reputation of teams demanding exorbitant amounts scare people away from sponsoring any team, leaving the Richard Pettys and Robert Yates’ unable to get their feet in the door?

Or is this the opportunity they have been looking for at last? Can someone like the Wood Brothers approach the likes of DuPont and say “We won’t charge you that much for sponsorship because we don’t need that much,” making it more appealing for sponsors to look at smaller rather than just wait for the opportunity to get on Jimmie Johnson’s car?

NASCAR has always attracted the ultra-conservative crowd that believes in the supposed “free market,” where businesses are allowed to do anything they want and groups like Hendrick Motorsports can run groups like Petty Motorsports into the ground if they choose.

But with sponsors now apparently taking charge more, things might be changing quickly. And if people like Rick Hendrick don’t adjust, racers like Jimmie Johnson may have to watch those like Kezelowski raise more trophies in the future.