Saturday, February 20, 2010

Danica Patrick In NASCAR: On Overdrive or Overexposed?

Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images for NASCAR

For the last few weeks, the mainstream media outlets of NASCAR have been piping out daily stories as so-called Danicamania, Danicapalooza, or whatever other name was given to Danica Patrick's stock car racing debut. Affecting the way many auto racing fans have been following the first several weeks of the NASCAR season, the name Danica Patrick has consumed the headlines taking space even on the race results. Even XSL Speed Reporter can be guilty of this practice.

At Auto Club Speedway, it is Danica Patrick's second race running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series continuing to receive the attention of cameras and respected members of media. This is a defining moment for women in motorsports of Patrick is fully intended to do more than just make a showing for the NASCAR Nationwide series in 2010 season. Danica Patrick, a determined and passionate racer, is also a consistent media draw attracting top racing organization as well as top sponsors.

Garnering a large audience through IndyCar events for years, it is unsurprising that the high-profile NASCAR series would see the attention paid towards Patrick multiply. Starting with an ARCA test at Daytona International Speedway in December (an event that typically sees only a few members of motorsport media cover) a school of reporters and photographers swam to Danica Patrick as her every move was documented.

As mountains of articles and the several gigabytes of video profiles the highly-popular IndyCar regular, her presence has sparked some varying views on the attention which Danica Patrick There's the people who want to see a constantly competitive woman in NASCAR and there's the NASCAR viewers who are sick of this perceived excessive coverage of a rookie driver. Let's face it without diminishing anything from the handful of women auto racers who competed in NASCAR through the sanctioning body's 62-year run, Danica Patrick has received the first real opportunity in NASCAR stock car racing where a female is respected enough to be given front-running race equipment. With this being said, the first races of Danica Patrick during 2010 Daytona Speedweeks represented an extremely interesting occurrence.

Thanks to a 6th place run in the 200 mile ARCA race at Daytona, the media buildup was reinforced with the promising finish that convinced Patrick's team (JR Motorsports) to extend her 2010 race schedule to include the NASCAR Nationwide Series Race4COPD 300. Moving up her NASCAR debut by one week (Patrick's first race was supposed to be the Fontana event this weekend) the increased presence during Daytona Speedweeks offered something more of a distraction for the other Nationwide series competitors (at least most of them are Sprint Cup series regulars so they probably enjoyed the break from probing reporters). Much like the ARCA race, there always seemed to be one camera devoted just to following Danica Patrick's #7 Chevrolet during that NASCAR Nationwide Series even only to see her fall out of the event after getting caught in an accident.

As Danica Patrick endured her first competitive feats in stock car racing, race fans have noticed. In fact, a number of race fans have been voicing their frustration with all the press attention to just one driver. While Patrick holds the distinction as the first female to win an IndyCar Series event, many race fans recall that this victory at the Twin-Ring Motegi is her only one in 81 race starts. While NASCAR fans generally welcome women drivers and looked especially forward to seeing Patrick in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet, the excessive media build-up for her debut alienated some of the mainstream NASCAR fans who has found less focus being paid to their choice driver. The one things that I've gathered through following auto racing is that there is such thing as too much exposure for a specific driver.

While the NASCAR press are trying to paint her accomplishments as a major move for gender equality, maybe auto racing fans are performing the most flattering service by rating Patrick on the same scale as all other drivers entering the series.

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