The Media Darling

By the time Danica Patrick’s NASCAR deal was announced, it had been so long expected that there was no real suspense left to wonder about. I think that everyone with an opinion sounded off about it within the past few months, so it was about as ho-hum as her announced deal with Andretti Autosport a couple of weeks ago.

So why am I devoting more time and effort to discuss Danica Patrick? It isn’t her or her deal that has gotten my attention this week. It’s the way the mainstream media is falling all over themselves to cover the story on their own terms with selective journalism. The regular IndyCar press as well as the NASCAR press both did a credible job with the story. It was the mainstream media, which seems to be the only ones that the so-called Danica fans listen to, that completely butchered the story. They either twisted, manipulated or completely omitted facts in order to present this as an extraordinary move.

When I say Danica fans, I’m not talking about IndyCar fans that happen to like Danica. Instead, I’m talking about the non-race fan that knows nothing of Danica and even less of the Izod IndyCar Series. All they seem to know is that Danica is a babe who should be driving in NASCAR and should also be dating them. It’s hard to take a guy seriously, when he’s wearing a black cap with a teal number 7. Add to that look a stretched-out T-shirt with a full-length photograph of Danica in a sexy pose that is pulled over a middle-aged gut, distorting her body beyond recognition. It’s an image that is all too well emblazoned on my brain.

On Tuesday, I came across an article entitled “Patrick Takes Gutsy Drive Down NASCAR Road” by Jay Hart of Yahoo Sports. In this terribly misguided piece, Mr. Hart refers to Danica Patrick as the “Wonder Woman of IndyCar”. In praising her for making such a bold move, he says “…where she is now, she’s making millions, placed atop a high pedestal with no one in sight to knock her off. That’s what makes this move so gutsy”.

Hmmm…let me get this straight. Danica had a career-best season in IndyCars and finished a distant fifth in the standings. After 82 races, she has collected one win. Those are decent statistics, at best – but they hardly place her alone at the top of the IndyCar mountain. I would think that Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon should merit some consideration for any mountaintop discussion.

Please keep in mind that it is not my intention to bash Ms. Patrick or any of her accomplishments. That’s a discussion for another day. My complaint here, is how the mainstream media has presented this as the only possible career step she could take. According to Mr. Hart, her talent is being wasted in IndyCar. He points out “…the path from the IRL to Cup is littered with the road kill of her (IndyCar) contemporaries”.

Mr. Hart then seems to take great pride in pointing out the well-documented struggles of Franchitti, Sam Hornish and Juan Montoya. Then he rambles on about how it will take at least three years before she could even think about being competitive in the almighty world of racing stock cars. Mr. hart then wraps up his article again talking about how brave she is to risk her entire career just to fulfill her dream of driving in NASCAR.

Not only did Mr. Hart make a drooling spectacle of himself, as most in the mainstream media do over Danica Patrick (i.e. Todd Harris and Brent Musburger), but he failed to mention one key aspect of her NASCAR deal while lauding her for taking such a risk…it’s a part-time deal!

Not once did Mr. Hart even hint that Danica would still be driving IndyCars in 2010. Nor did he mention anything about how she had just re-signed for at least two more years with Andretti Autosport. To read his article, one would assume that Danica had left the lowly world of open-wheel behind, in order to salvage something of a career by driving in NASCAR.

My other point of contention with Mr. Hart is the insinuation that IndyCar drivers are somehow second-rate, as he is so quick to point out the failures of all the IndyCar drivers in NASCAR. Mr. Hart doesn’t bother to mention that no NASCAR drivers have even attempted to drive in a single IndyCar race in almost thirty years. Don’t try to say that Robby Gordon, John Andretti or Tony Stewart did, because they were IndyCar drivers before they were NASCAR drivers.

I recall that Kurt Busch took some laps on a road course in an IndyCar several years back. His times were decent, but he was also the only car on the track. Prior to that, my mind goes all the way back to summer of 1991 when Bill Elliot took some practice laps at Michigan in Eddie Cheever’s Target Lola during the IndyCar race weekend. When he got out, he was shaking and could hardly talk (although some would argue that’s his normal speech pattern anyway). Elliot had nothing but high praise for anyone that was willing to strap themselves into one of those machines.

Although it appears I’m picking on Mr. Hart – his article just happens to be one of the many I’ve read. It just represents the theme of the others I read this week. You may read his full article here.

I realize that the NASCAR schedule doesn’t permit their drivers hopping into an IndyCar race, even if their manufacturers would allow it. But it infuriates me when the struggles of Franchitti and Hornish are held up as examples to demonstrate that only the very best can drive a stock car. Let’s be honest – an IndyCar and a stock car are two completely different animals. Going from one to the other is obviously difficult. But I wish the uninformed masses would stop and realize that the difficulty runs both ways.

But unless Danica goes over there, dominates and then makes sure everyone knows that IndyCars require a lot more skill, the perception will continue. And I don’t think any of that is going to happen.

George Phillips

20 Responses to “The Media Darling”

  1. Thank you George. Once again, you have nailed it exactly as it is.

  2. Right on, George! You nailed it again, as you usually do.

    Unfortunately, this is typical of what society-and the media in particular-are today:a group of sheep who frankly don’t have the intelligence or work ethic to go beyond the surface of anything and actually see what’s underneath. The article you referenced by Jay Hart of Yahoo! Sports is pretty much-give or take a few words-the same fawning article written by everyone else about this subject, with the exact same implications that IndyCar is vastly inferior to NASCAR. This is one of many reasons why I hope she just goes away and then we can focus on real racers as opposed to people wanting to build “their brand”. Simona De Silvestro-who tested an IndyCar this week for HVM and Ana Beatriz can’t get here fast enough for me.

  3. S S Minnow Says:

    With the recent rebranding to the Izod Indycar Series, what is the buzz that you may be aware of when may we anticipate the proper renaming to the Danica Racing Series?

  4. Couldn’t have said it any better.

  5. Daniker has been the bright spot in marketing the IRL over the last few years and I’m happy they have her for two more years. She will bring a whole bunch of attention to Nascar when they need it and hopefully some of that spotlight will shine on the IRL.

    I just hope the IRL can continue to interest sponsors so they can keep the other (perhaps even more) talented female drivers like DeSilverstro and Beatriz and Pippa Mann. But I also hope they can bring up some of the younger, exciting, marketable male driver/personalities from FIL like J.R. and Hinch.

    Nascar has done a great job at marketing drivers as personalities who have very loyal (rabid–see Dale Jr.) followings. Maybe that doesn’t have much to do with racing skills, but it has a lot to do with fan support and financial success.

  6. Well said, as always, George. I had read a couple of articles that were definitely in the same vein as Mr. Hart’s, and I was really disappointed that IndyCar was not even mentioned, and that nobody was clear about the part-time status.

    To top it off, I talked with my father-in-law about it last night. He’s not a big racing fan (he’s basically limited to what he sees on SportsCenter), and he asked me what I thought about the Danica deal. After bantering back and forth about it, I realized that 1) he knew nothing about her staying in IndyCar with Andretti, 2) he had no idea it was part time and designed to work around the IndyCar schedule, and 3) he thought she was going to the Cup series.

    It just proved to me how badly the media has reported on this. I’m disappointed, although that’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from modern mainstream media.

  7. One more thought: While I realize that Danica is more concerned about protecting “Danica The Brand” than anything else, it would be nice if she will try to mention IndyCar a bit more in interviews – explain the differences and let people know that she’s still an IndyCar driver. If anything, it might help build her case to showcase her own talent if she can drive both kinds of cars…

  8. Great take, George. I’m right there with you, buddy.

    Shameless Plug Alert! I’ve got a similar, though slightly different take over at my place today. I managed to find somebody whose career statistics mirror Danica’s to a rather shocking extent. And let’s just say that if that guy had “jumped” to NASCAR (which Danica is clearly not actually doing) at a similar point in his career, nobody would have bothered to stop any presses…

  9. The one thing that’s been irritating me most about the types of articles like Hart’s isn’t the misrepresentation and overstating of Danica’s worth and importance as a driver. I mean, come on, aren’t we all used to that by now?

    Nope, it’s the continuous bashing of Dario’s efforts. Dario would have been fine if he’d been handed the opportunity Danica’s been handed ie a fully-sponsored effort with a top team.

  10. I don’t have a very positive view of very many of the NASCAR writers, I call them “PR Writers” on my site. Anyways, I’m actually really more positive on this move than most people. Nationwide and ARCA are not the pinicle of stock car racing, or even close. Really, in Nationwide, I think a win isn’t out of the question, although it’s most likely to come at a stand alone event, where really, Keselowski, Edwards, Algier, Leffler, and mabye Bires(her teammate) will be in contention for the win, or a restrictor plate track, anyone can win those. Nationwide cars are pretty much flat out on longer ovals, so I don’t think the transition will be too hard. That doesn’t mean she WILL win, but it’s possible. I believe that she will be able to run top 15-top5,depending on event, and largly on which cup drivers are in the field. If she cannont do that, then things aren’t going to be good at all BUT, Cup racing is a differant matter.

    • Dylan,
      I don’t think Danica has a prayer at the plate tracks. Those require a drafting partner to have any success. Who’s going to draft with somebody who’s barely spent any time at all in those cars? You can ask Jacques Villeneuve about that. She might win the ARCA race at Daytona, because she’s going to have one of the best five cars out there and then it’ll be a lottery among those five drivers, but the Nationwide race will be a different matter. I see her cruising around at the back and all of the other drivers avoiding her like she’s got H1N1, SARS and the gout.

      As for the rest of her NASCAR schedule, regardless of where, she’s going to be up against 40+ drivers who have each been training for 10+ years to get where they are. Her transition from IndyCar to stock car is like a pilot getting out of a Red Bull air race plane and trying to solo-pilot a Boeing 777. Are they fundamentally the same, comprised of all the same controls and components (wings, ailerons, flaps, elevators)? Sure. Do they fly even remotely the same? No way. She’s going up against guys who do this dozens of times per year, and who don’t also have to spend time recalibrating themselves to a different type of car on different weekends. I’ll be happy to eat my words if I’m wrong, but I just don’t see her running in the top-20 in NASCAR, at any level, before 2012 or 2013.

      • A lot less then 40, 10+ cars start and park ,and it’s worse at Fontana. IRL races are flat out and involve the draft, so Daytona should be good for her. As for drafting partners, a lot of nationwide drivers would struggle to get them, but mabye Junior will help her out. Besides, McMurry and Keselowski could win a plate race, so anyone can if they’re lucky. I don’t think the Nationwide field is very strong, and the equipment many of the teams have isn’t very good(think Kenny Wallace). Also, her other avenue to success is the Nationwide COT,currently schedualed for 4 races, if Junior Motorsports(Hendrick) get a good grip on it.
        I guess I just lack a lot of respect for the Nationwide series, it’s about 20 field fillers, 8 cup teams, and a couple semi legitimite midpackers, and she’ll be with the top stuff. Anyways, had she signed with Joe Gibbs racing, a win would be almost certain, anyone can win in Gibbs car!

      • Cup is completley diffrent, and I would say if she moved up right aways she’d struggle terribly, but Nationwide is another story.

      • J.J. Yeley couldn’t win in a Gibbs car, and he has a stellar sprint car record.

        I think Danica will win in ARCA, actually. It’s basically all car and if Kerry Earnhardt and Jason Jarrett can win there, she should be able to win there in her rocket, eventually. As I pointed out on Will’s blog, David Stremme lapped the field in an ARCA race. ARCA races are probably less corrupt than NASCAR races, but the talent of the field is probably no better than a lot of local short tracks, and I might be generous here. Nationwide? No way, because she’s up against full-time Cup stars. She’s not going to be the next Brad Keselowski.

  11. tim nothhelfer Says:

    I think she will be a perfect fit for nascar. Assuming she makes it to cup… running in the top twenty five she would be beating eighteen men. Because it’s all about the show making money. And She will be a huge money maker for nascar…

  12. I still stand by the fact that Nascar drivers should be embarrassed that IndyCar drivers are doing as well as they are. Cup & Nationwide drivers have been training in either stock cars or dirt track cars that run loose like cup cars their entire lives.

    Now, here come guys that have spent their entire careers driving cars that are alien-like to stock cars, that handle and perform completely different. And within 2 or 3 years, they’re running at least midpack, performing better than half of the field (of guys training for this their entire careers).

    In my opinion, this shows just how talented open-wheelers are. THAT should be the story.

  13. Hi George, I’m not certain that Danica is arrogant, a race car drivers career is short, so go for the dough. You can still exhibit loyalty in sports to some extent and still get paid as well. Some do and some don’t-in this case, she stuck with AA, and that shows some character. I also don’t see sleaze in Go-Daddy, but then again, I go to Hooters for the Wings, yeah, right. But as for the fawning press, you got it, bub. And I’m really glad that Hobbson resurfaced.

  14. Well Danica did pretty well as an Indy driver, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t go out there and really tear it up as a Nascar Driver

  15. I think there’ll always be some of that. I live in LA so I got a double-dose of the news when David Beckham signed to play soccer on the local team. It was a feeding frenzy. The couple people I knew who actually follow soccer just scoffed at it: Beckham was a has-been and it was like going from the Indy 500 to driving dirt tracks at the county fair. But you’d never know it to listen to the News.

    Last I heard he was going to Spain. Is he here or is he gone? I have no idea…

    • He went from Spain (Real Madrid) to the US. He was trying to score a place at AC Milan in Italy, so that he would have a chance to play for England again.
      Anyhoo, back on topic…

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