Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

What Danica, NASCAR mean to each other

There are certain days in sports that will be remembered forever.

The Miracle on Ice. Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. The Shot Heard 'Round the World.

Today could turn out to be one of those special days. We might see the greatest moment in the history of women in sports. All that stands in the way is 500 miles — the length of today's Daytona 500.

Danica Patrick, 30, isn't the favorite, though she will start on the pole position. That achievement alone has created more buzz than the Super Bowl of auto racing has seen in years. But a victory would change everything — from NASCAR, to women in sports, to sports in general.

Even if she doesn't win, Patrick already is having a huge influence on NASCAR as she begins her rookie Sprint Cup season. Sure, Patrick needs NASCAR, but, even more so, NASCAR needs Patrick. Here's a look at the key questions about this marriage that could lift NASCAR and Patrick to new heights.

For starters, can she win today?

Of course. She's on the pole, meaning she had the fastest lap of any driver in last week's qualifying — actually, the fastest qualifying lap (196.434 mph) at Daytona since 1990.

"I think she's got a big advantage here,'' ESPN analyst Andy Petree said. "I think this is one of her best tracks to really shine and to have a legitimate shot at winning. To say she's a favorite? I wouldn't say that, but she is on the pole, she's got a chance to win.''

Patrick would not be considered a failure if she doesn't win. In 54 years of the race, only nine pole-sitters have won, and none since Dale Jarrett in 2000.

What would a victory today mean?

Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip told reporters last week that if Patrick wins, it would change stock car racing forever.

"It would take it to another level,'' he said.

Let's go a step farther. It would take sports to another level.

As Mike Joy, who will call today's race on Fox, said, news of Patrick winning the pole made the front pages.

"Not the front sports page, but the front page of the entire paper,'' he said.

Why does NASCAR need Patrick?

According to Fox, television audiences for Daytona are 50 to 60 percent higher than the other Sprint Car broadcasts. But Patrick's presence, particularly because she is starting in the front row, should make this the most-watched NASCAR race ever, breaking the record of 36 million who watched the 2006 Daytona 500. That could translate to new racing fans, which would benefit NASCAR as well as the networks that televise it: Fox, ESPN and Turner Sports.

However, Patrick needs to have some success. She doesn't have to win this season, but she has to be competitive.

"I think it's a huge opportunity if she succeeds because her reach to America is far greater than any other driver,'' Joy said. "She has a great following even outside the sport.''

NASCAR television ratings across all the networks have been unsteady in recent years. Last year, they took a downward turn — about a 25 percent drop in the key 18- to 34-year-old demographic — from 2011 and were the lowest in five years.

Patrick could give NASCAR a much needed and steady jolt.

Why does Patrick need NASCAR?

Patrick already has experienced some success in IndyCar racing. She won a race. She finished third in the Indianapolis 500. And while we can debate the merits of open-wheel racing versus stock car, there's no question NASCAR is the most popular form of auto racing in this country.

For Patrick to maximize her popularity, NASCAR is the place to be.

Can Patrick withstand all the pressure?

The pressure won't be the hard part for Patrick. It will be the actual driving.

"She is used to the pressure,'' Joy said. "There is no greater pressure-cooker in auto racing than the Indianapolis 500 and she has done well there both on the track and with all the media attention. She is probably much more media savvy than two-thirds of the drivers in (NASCAR).

"But she doesn't have a lot of experience in these stock cars and that's going to be telling as the season goes on. I think the best she can do is finish races, gain the trust of the people who are racing around her, score some good finishes and show progress, and I think everybody will be happy with that.''

Bottom line

With her endorsements and appearances as a spokeswoman and model, Patrick already is one of the most recognizable and marketable athletes in the world. She's believed to be worth $18 million and earns about $12 million a year in endorsements. Those numbers will blow up if she has any success at all this year. NASCAR's numbers — TV ratings, attendance, merchandise — will go through the roof, too.

When it comes to Patrick and NASCAR, the finish line today could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

What Danica, NASCAR mean to each other 02/23/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning journal: Tighter defense fuels hot start

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — See what happens when you keep the crease clean, limit the traffic in front of G Andrei Vasilevskiy and limit Grade A scoring chances.

    BUZZER BEATER: Yanni Gourde gets the hugs with a goal with less than 1 second left in the first. 
  3. Red-hot Rowdies win playoff opener


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies entered Saturday night's United Soccer League playoff opener as the league's hottest team. First-round opponent FC Cincinnati did nothing to cool them down.

    Marcel Schafer carries a Rowdies teammate on his back after scoring his second goal against Cincinnati in Saturday night’s USL playoff game at Al Lang. Up next: another home game, Oct. 28 against New York Red Bulls II.
  4. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Those wide-open, end-to-end, shoot-at-will games are a lot of fun to watch, especially when those shots are going in the net. But if the players had their druthers, they would rather have a more controlled pace, one with which they can dictate the action.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Lightning-Penguins game

    Lightning Strikes

    Man, is Nikita Kucherov fun to watch. He has a goal in all but one game this season and points in all nine. You have to watch him each time he is on the ice because he is going to do something you do not want to miss: a goal, a shot that requires a tough save, a nifty pass to set up a linemate for a goal.