Danica Patrick Wins Pole For Daytona 500, Could Provide "Shot In The Arm" For NASCAR
NASCAR driver Danica Patrick yesterday won the pole for this Sunday's Daytona 500 and in the process "did something only she could do: She helped NASCAR's present and future with a single great lap," according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. Fans who would have "never considered watching a NASCAR race will be tempted to tune in" this coming Sunday "to see how Patrick fares." They "might even get hooked on racing." It is "not a stretch, then, to imagine that, 20 years from now, fans in the stands and drivers on the track might point to this day as the reason they became interested in NASCAR." Now the "question becomes: Will NASCAR execute?" For the nation's "premier motor sports series, this could be the shot in the arm that helps it recover from sagging attendance, in part from the 2008 economic downturn, and falling TV ratings that have besieged it the last few years" (USA TODAY, 2/18). USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Patrick's starting position "certainly is a gender breakthrough for the male-dominated motor sports arena" as she became the first woman to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series. Ryan writes it was "a serious jolt of star power for NASCAR." Patrick, who has "appeared in a record 11 Super Bowl commercials and on red carpets, helped get #Daytona500 trending on Twitter" yesterday. Patrick said that the pole "probably was more significant than the 2008 Izod IndyCar Series victory that made her the first female to win an oval-track race in auto racing's big leagues" (USA TODAY, 2/18).
MARKETING MACHINE: In Orlando, George Diaz writes despite any "wails of protest, this is great business for everybody: FOX Sports, the Speedway, NASCAR." The sport may "still struggle to find the 'It Guy.'" But there is "no question who is the 'It Girl'" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/18). The AP's Mark Long wrote Patrick "leading the field to the green flag in NASCAR's showcase event should be must-watch television" (AP, 2/17). Fox’ Darrell Waltrip said, “This is going to give our sport ... worldwide exposure” ("NASCAR Racing," Fox, 2/17). NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick said, "It shifts the focus. It's a huge deal for our sport to have her on the front row of the Daytona 500." He added, "It definitely sets a new milestone in our sport. I'm glad it's for all the right reasons." Driver Mark Martin said, "It's a pretty big deal when Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. sits on the pole here. It's a bigger day when Danica does it, and for good reason. It's never been done" (ESPN.com, 2/17). SI.com's Dustin Long wrote the "true indication of her power won't be seen just in Nielsen ratings, Twitter trends or any other ranking." It will be "what the sport looks like in two decades." Driver Jeff Gordon said, "I've always been a big believer in what's good for the sport is good for all of us. So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from that, as well" (SI.com, 2/17). In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes winning the pole at "any superspeedway usually has little to do with the actual racing, but Patrick’s milestone still was important" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/18).
THE FOCUS OF ATTENTION: In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly writes Patrick is "quickly reshaping Speedweeks into 'She-weeks.'" This is "quickly becoming Danica's Daytona." Prior to winning the pole, she was the "toast of NASCAR Media Day on Thursday after she detailed her relationship with fellow Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr." Patrick: "The pole is good for the team and it's good for [sponsor] Go Daddy, good for NASCAR. I don't mind answering questions about the other stuff, but it's nice to change the tone of the questions because of what's going on at the track" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/18). Also in Daytona Beach, Ken Willis writes yesterday's pole win "further cemented her as 'The Story' in the bigger-than-ever buildup" to this Sunday's race (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/18). The ORLANDO SENTINEL's Diaz wrote this is an "ironic twist for anyone rolling their eyes at all the undue attention Danica was getting because of her relationship" with Stenhouse. There is "a lot more to love now other than her personal life" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 2/17). In Boston, Michael Vega writes yesterday's events "shifted the media attention away from Patrick’s off-track relationship" with Stenhouse (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/18).
RACE REWIND: The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER's Utter writes of last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited race, "When drivers participating in a race are confused about the rules, that says a lot." For all the "good things about fan involvement surrounding the Sprint Unlimited, keeping things simple would be better." Utter: "Remember, the race has a bigger audience then just those who voted." So, the people "following along that didn't participate need to be able to understand as well" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/18).