By Ryan Isley
Apparently to get a ride in NASCAR these days, looks and marketability are just as important as actual driving ability. Just ask Danica Patrick.
For a driver who has one career victory, Patrick sure gets a lot of headlines when it comes to racing. News out of NASCAR is that Patrick will race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series full-time in 2012 for JR Motorsports and will more than likely make her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the 2012 Daytona 500 driving for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Forgive me if I missed the part of her career when she became an elite racecar driver, but what exactly has she done to be awarded this handout? When was the last time that someone who has won so little got this much hype, press and opportunities? Besides LeBron James, that is?
There are plenty of drivers in every series that have had more success than Patrick but are not going to get the great opportunity she is receiving of a ride in a NASCAR series. Patrick is getting the opportunity for reasons other than her driving skills, or lack thereof.
It is not just about being a female, either. It is about being an attractive female. Both JR Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing (along with probably everyone involved with NASCAR) realize that bringing Patrick into the mix no doubt drive the interest in their teams and the sports.
Maybe the commitment to running a full season in the Nationwide Series instead of jumping from one series to another and back will prove to be what Patrick needs to gain some success as one of the problems I have with Patrick is that she has jumped from series to series to series without actual being a perennial winner in any of them.
She started in the Champ Car World Series satellite divisions racing in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and Toyota Atlantic Series. In Toyota Atlantic, she won one pole and zero races for the Rahal Letterman Racing team but nonetheless was promoted to run in the IRL IndyCar Series in 2005.
In seven seasons in the IndyCar Series, Patrick has three poles, one win and 20 top-5 finishes to her credit. She has never finished higher than fifth in the points standings and currently sits in 12th place for 2011.
Patrick has not been satisfied with running just IRL IndyCar, however, as she has dabbled in NASCAR the past two seasons, running abbreviated schedules in the Nationwide Series. She has three top-10s in 20 races and an average finish of 23rd.
All totaled between her time in Barber Dodge Pro, Toyota Atlantic, IRL IndyCar, ARCA (one race), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (one race), Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series (two races) and NASCAR Nationwide, Patrick has run 161 races with just one victory and 26 top-5 finishes.
Despite those numbers, Patrick will always have a ride because she will sell tickets and merchandise, along with advertising. Ironically, with Patrick running for JR Motorsports, people will compare her to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as drivers who only have a ride due to who they are. People always forget that Earnhardt, Jr. won back-to-back Nationwide Series championships (then Busch Series) in 1998 and 1999 to get his ride in the Sprint Cup Series.
Maybe I am wrong and Patrick will become a great NASCAR driver. I doubt it, but it could happen. Regardless, she was given the chance because of who she is, not because of what she has done.