In her first trip to the half-mile leviathan known as Bristol Motor Speedway, Danica Patrick felt the unyielding wrath of the Bristol beast. On Friday, when she got here, the usual media circus surrounding her was unrelenting and the fans that had access to pit road kept hounding her endlessly for autographs. She was getting so much unwanted attention that one could not help but feel a bit sorry for Ms. Patrick. With Danica trying to focus on the task at hand, it seemed like she was pursued by a seemingly endless stream of well-wishers and autograph-seekers that might have distracted her a bit from her duties for Jr. Motorsports. In qualifying, she started an ignominious 29th. But as the race progressed forward, she was slowly, but surely gaining experience on the half-mile and had, in fact, worked her way into the top 20.
But late in the race, at lap 245, Danica appeared to come up on Ryan Truex in turn 2 and hit his left rear quarter-panel, spinning herself out in the process and making hard contact with the turn 3 wall. As she exited the car, she showed a bit of an attitude toward Ryan Truex for, in her mind, wrecking her. But as video evidence shows, nothing could have been any further from the truth. In fact, it looked as if Danica came up on Truex and wrecked herself in the process. In her post-race interview, she reverted back to her mentality of blame everyone else but herself and came across as a might bit childish. She seemed incredulous that one is supposed to race hard at Bristol, when it’s a well-known fact that if you race at Bristol, you better expect to be in for some contact along the way.
Make no mistake about it. Danica has improved tremendously from her early stock car outings where it seemed like she spent more time in the wall than on the track, and she deserves credit for her 4th place finish at Las Vegas. But let’s take a reality break just for a minute, race fans. Danica Patrick showed at Bristol that she still has plenty to learn about driving in NASCAR, in particular at the short-tracks where she has seemed to struggle the most in her rather limited experience. To hail Danica as “ready for Cup racing” after a fuel-mileage 4th place finish is just completely and utterly asinine in almost every respect. Does she sell tickets? Undeniably so. Does she sell merchandise? By far and away, she does. But the fact remains that if Ms. Patrick was not put up on this pedestal as a sex symbol, race fans would largely be apathetic toward her NASCAR pursuits.
There are a few other female drivers currently in NASCAR that do not get the mainstream publicity that Danica gets. Drivers like Jennifer Jo Cobb and Johanna Long also race in NASCAR, but almost no one, save the most ardent hardcore fans have likely ever heard of either lady. What is particularly irritating is that it seems as if NASCAR is perfectly content to put all their eggs in the “elite female driver” basket on Danica Patrick, even if she doesn’t automatically deserve that status held to her. If NASCAR is serious about their efforts to get more female fans, why not put forth more marketing effort in the other female drivers, at least to perhaps make them comparable on the scale of Danica in terms of merchandise-sales. But, for reasons only known to the NASCAR brain trust, all they seem to care about is Danica along with ESN, who tirelessly covers her running mid-pack. If one is going to cover one mid-pack driver, why not cover them all or just flat out don’t cover them, even if their name is Danica Patrick. But, on the bright-side, at least we won’t get another dose of Danica-Mania for another three months.