Danica changes the game

Danica Patrick is making the move from IndyCar to NASCAR full-time this season. What will it mean for the sport?

Win-win situation

By Amanda Rykoff

I've never caught the NASCAR bug. Even the Daytona 500, the so-called "Super Bowl of NASCAR," has never been appointment viewing for me. Will that change when Danica Patrick joins the NASCAR circuit full-time at this year's Daytona 500? Probably not. I may tune in if I see anything noteworthy pop up on Twitter, as I do with any sporting event, but that won't be because of Patrick. Her presence in IndyCar racing didn't impact my interest (or lack thereof) in that sport, either.

Do I think that Patrick's move to NASCAR full-time is a win-win for both her and NASCAR? Absolutely. For Patrick, it marks a step up to compete against the big boys. NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series is the marquee motorsports competition in the United States and she is eager to show that her aggressive driving style suits it.

"The fact that stock cars have bumpers invigorates the rougher side of me that's been tempered by the inability in open-wheel racing to touch anyone," Patrick told ESPN The Magazine's Marty Smith in December. "To be able to go out on the track and stake your place excites me."

Patrick is also no dummy; she will be driving as part of Tony Stewart's team. Stewart holds the Sprint Cup title and is a three-time NASCAR champion. She would not make this jump without the support -- both financially and mechanically -- of a top-notch team.

Thanks in large part to her success as a product endorser, most notoriously for GoDaddy.com, Patrick brings name recognition and sex appeal to NASCAR. For better or worse, Patrick is one of the most-recognized names in auto racing, regardless of her performance on the track. Though NASCAR did rebound from a ratings and attendance swoon in 2010 with stronger 2011 numbers, having Patrick on board full-time brings buzz. Buzz brings attention and continued infusion of dollars from television partners and sponsors. She likely won't knock the big boys out of their top spots among the NASCAR faithful, but having a new contender can only help marketing efforts.

If Patrick can perform well, it would be huge for her and the sport. On the Nationwide Series, Patrick finished in the top 10 three times and had one top-five finish in her 20 races. No woman has ever won a NASCAR race. While Patrick has demonstrated improvement on the track, she has a long road ahead of her.

Danica moves the needle

By Jane McManus

Danica Patrick moves the needle. Part of it is because she is a credible, competitive driver. But there is no denying that part of the attention is because she is a woman in a traditionally male field, and she is beautiful.

It's hard to pull those threads apart when discussing her popularity. Some women have told me they feel uncomfortable about the way Patrick plays up her sexuality in advertisements, but I've always thought she was shrewd in the way she marketed herself, at least at first.

Before Patrick was a household name -- but after she'd trained as a driver for years -- she posed for a men's magazine draped over a yellow car. Since I don't know anything about cars, I can only imagine that it was something fast and expensive. The pictures were standard fare for the genre and went straight to her audience, young males who were potential auto-racing fans.

She had worked her way up legitimately, but the magazine spread got her noticed by fans and advertisers. It was a smart business move. Women don't have the advantage of the old boys' network. Patrick had to find her own avenue to success after spending years proving herself on the track. That kind of move works only if you have the talent and work ethic to back it up.

Now if there was only a similar justification for those awful Go Daddy ads.

Not a fan

By Melissa Jacobs

Danica Patrick still races cars? Between the skimpy magazine covers, Jay-Z video and endless Go Daddy commercials that define Patrick to non-auto racing enthusiasts like myself, this kind of information can get lost.

Women shattering glass ceilings is one of the most compelling elements of sports. Danica has certainly done that through IndyCar and now NASCAR. But the Danica Patrick Story doesn't inspire the same awe factor for me as other trailblazing moments such as Annika Sorenstam playing the Bank of America PGA Tour event or Katie Hnida scoring as a place-kicker for the University of New Mexico football team.

Don't hate me, NASCAR fans, but I have simply never appreciated the athleticism of your sport. If a female kicker has the leg strength to kick for a Division I team, or a female professional golfer has the stamina and skills to hold her own against a male counterpart, that is tangible athleticism.

I know auto racing is a mental grind, and dangerous, but I have never understood why there can't be droves of female drivers. In fact, I would imagine a lower body weight would be advantageous. When Ms. Go Daddy is plastered on my television 500 times come Super Sunday, perhaps I'll be compelled to start my auto-racing education.

Actually, I won't.

She'll get the Tebow treatment

By Sarah Spain

Despite my tendency to drive a little too fast (the term "leadfoot" has left the mouth of a passenger or two), I've never had much interest in racing as a sport. Early in my career, I was a game-logger for a nightly highlights show, a job that included watching hours of all the major televised sports, from hockey to hoops to football, even the Westminster Dog Show. I found that the more I watched and learned about each sport, the more I liked it. I can't say the same for racing, though. I watched hours and hours of left turns, taking note of crashes, position changes and, ultimately, the final standings, but I never understood the appeal.

While I don't think Danica Patrick's switch from IndyCar to NASCAR will have me singing a different tune about racing, I am curious to see how she handles the new challenge. She's sort of the Tim Tebow of racing -- every move she makes is carefully dissected and there seem to be as many people cheering for her failures as her successes.

If her 2012 starts off anything like Tebow's, I imagine we'll be seeing quite a lot of Patrick.

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