There's plenty to talk about after a wild weekend at Daytona, including a little Danica debrief after her 35th-place finish in her first Nationwide race. I know you won't all be happy about that, but here goes.
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In your Danica Patrick article on Saturday, you say, "She'll always command attention -- no matter what she does." Well, you are perpetuating this view with your article. Your level of coverage and writing are great. Why not focus on the individuals who are winning the races and deserving of recognition instead of the sideshow? -- William, Houston
Because that sideshow is what people want to hear about, William. At last check, my story on her from Saturday's race was beating Sunday's Daytona 500 recap 10 to 1 in readership, leaving NASCAR's Super Bowl fighting for the scraps she leaves behind. And that comes after just one race in the sport's second-tier division. Could you imagine if she comes over for a full season in 2011 or 2012?
There's also the "newness" factor she provides for a sport where the driver base is set in stone. Don't believe me? Quick, in ten seconds or fewer tell me which rookies are lighting it up in NASCAR so far in 2010.
Waiting ... waiting ...
Can't think of any? That's because there are none. This year's 500 had no rookies who qualified, and the two drivers competing for top freshman honors have neither the experience (Kevin Conway) nor the equipment (Terry Cook) to compete. The trick going forward will be to balance the information about Danica with telling the stories of everyone else (more on that in a bit).
Where I get frustrated with the Danica coverage is when people look at her as a "savior" for women racing stock cars. There have been plenty of females in NASCAR circles for years who are just as talented, but haven't gotten the opportunities. Alli Owens and Chrissy Wallace (who also crashed out of Saturday's race) come to mind, and I hope their dreams don't die in the midst of all the Danica hype.
I think that finding excuses and looking at the "bright side" of Danica Patrick's entry into the NASCAR world is the absolute wrong way of looking at this situation. NASCAR is a highly dangerous sport, and having an inexperienced driver like Patrick thrown into the fray at one of the sport's most famous races is a huge mistake. It should be obvious to anybody that having Patrick join the NASCAR circuit is nothing but a publicity stunt, and a horrible one. We are talking about a sport that is considered the most popular in America (one-third of all Americans are NASCAR fans, according to statistics.) She should be removed from the track immediately and should be racing where her true talents lay, and that is IndyCar racing. -- Christopher, Montville
Danica didn't do all that bad in her debut. At the time she wrecked, her No. 7 Chevy was hanging in the lead draft somewhere around 24th place, on the lead lap, and she was gaining confidence behind the wheel. When she did crash, there was absolutely nothing she could do to avoid it. I think that's a very important thing to remember -- that she never caused an incident during Speedweeks. It's a far greater achievement than she's getting credit for, especially when looking at other open-wheeler's NASCAR debuts:
Dario Franchitti: 32nd, Nationwide, Memphis (involved in a wreck and caused one)
Sam Hornish, Jr.: 36th, Nationwide, Phoenix (crashed on his own)
Juan Pablo Montoya: 11th, Nationwide, Memphis
Of those three, only Montoya was able to finish his race without causing a wreck. Considering how easy it is to cause a crash in restrictor plate racing -- where the cars spend all day running nose-to-tail with each other in big packs. You've got to give Patrick credit.
Danica will ultimately not be successful in NASCAR. It's not because she is a woman, or a bad driver. She, like many others before her from open-wheelers, won't like the adjustment. I really wish you would stop over-hyping her. She is good, but not great, and gets far too much attention for her body of work. I can't wait until she tries to have a go at one of the drivers in a race. Will Tony Stewart hold back when Danica goes after him? Time will tell.-- Larry Shipp, Westcliff, England
I agree with the last line of this e-mail. No matter what you think of Danica, can you at least give her through Las Vegas before passing some sort of initial judgment? We may be an instant gratification society, but Rome wasn't built in a day ... or, in this case, 300 miles.
Just don't hold your breath on Patrick fighting someone else. As I explained in Saturday's column, Tony Eury Jr. has been such a calming influence on her behind the wheel that she never once lost her temper on Saturday, even when her car was at its worst. I expect her to remain a bit toned-down with Eury on top of the pit box unless someone blatantly tries to pick a fight.
And speaking of picking fights...
Why don't you just come out and say you don't want a woman stepping into the "good ole boys" world. No guts? -- David Jones
Oh my God, David! You caught me. I just write about her all the time, secretly hoping it'll spark a protest to kick her out of the sport...
Let's move on.
Speaking of Kyle Busch, I find it ironic that now he decides that he wants to stick up for underfunded teams by saying they should be getting more attention than Danica. But he and his Joe Gibbs team on the Nationwide side are a big part of the problem on that front. They run him and Joey all the time. They're up front all the time and win all the time, so others rarely ever get that coverage they need to sell themselves to sponsors that Kyle is preaching they should get, but hey... let's blame Danica. Everybody else in NASCAR already does.-- Damon in Hilliard, Ohio
Great point, Damon! In case you missed it, here's what Kyle had to say about Danica's coverage:
"The only thing I will say is that TV has been doing a horrible job. They've been covering her way too much. If you're going to have this much attention drawn on the series, let's put it toward all the people. If you've got all these people watching TV that want to hear about Danica, well, take advantage of that and show the less-funded teams, the underprivileged that want to have funding so they can race the rest of the year."
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Joe Gibbs Racing, through their Nationwide program, has won 33 of the last 70 races, including Busch taking the title in the equivalent of NASCAR's "AAA" baseball league. In the process, they've given just nine starts over the past year to drivers who aren't already entrenched in Sprint Cup. Think some of the up-and-coming talents would love to have a Gibbs motor (up to $100,000 per race to rent, according to sources) along with the well-deserved attention that JGR's received for dominating the series? It'd be theirs if Cup drivers didn't run in the minors quite so much.
But while those quotes are laughable coming from Kyle, let's not miss his overall point. The one worry going forward for NASCAR is Danica's only going to be around for 12 races this season, far short of the 35 contested in Nationwide. So how does the series market itself during the other 23? Like we've seen with the PGA, the Tiger Woods effect and marketing around one particular driver backfires once they're not there. So while all the hoopla around her debut was well-deserved, the media has to ensure that other drivers' stories get told in the coming weeks. Otherwise, you won't be coming back to read...
Speaking of "not coming back," that's the attitude of a lot of fans following this year's Daytona 500 after two delays totaling two hours, 25 minutes to fix the track. Sorry, "boring" is, in fact, the only possible word to describe more time spent waiting for potholes to be patched than running a race.-- Tom, Delray Beach, Fla
The worst part about this whole deal, Tom, is the race was one of the best staged by NASCAR in recent years. There were 21 leaders (a 500 record), 52 lead changes, and a surprise winner in Jamie McMurray, who only led the last two laps. Every fan who stayed to watch the ending was on his/her feet and cheering at the checkered flag.
The problem is that the track incident zapped the momentum of a possible NASCAR comeback in 2010. As Nielsen reported Monday, while more people watched some part of the Daytona 500 (29 million compared to 26 the year before), ratings dipped 16 percent to a 7.7, making it the lowest-watched Great American Race since 1991.
Hopefully, word will spread about the fantastic finish so fans will give this new NASCAR season a chance. But considering that the next race is at one of the sport's most boring tracks (Fontana), I worry about that turn 2 sinkhole sinking the ratings for the better part of the next few months.
I have a solution on this green/white/checker restart. If there are 10 laps or fewer and a caution is called, the lap counter stops. If they go around five times and there are only six laps left, well, so be it. The only change would be with two laps left; then, we can make it a green-white-checkered finish. What do you think? -- Tom Baczowski
I think we shouldn't mess with a good thing. Did you see how exciting NASCAR's new multiple green-white-checkered rule was Sunday? I haven't heard a single complaint, even from the driver himself who got shafted by the change. (Kevin Harvick would have won under the old system). Combine that with the larger plate that put control back in the driver's hands, and NASCAR's new rules wound up being the least of their problems during Speedweeks.
Alright, before we finish up ...
What does DNF stand for?-- Mariellen, Livonia, MI
As Alanis Morissette might say, "isn't it ironic" we're ending the column with this answer...
Did Not Finish.
Tweet of the Week: "I want to announce the birth of our son Wyatt into the world this morning!! Amanda and baby are doing great! Thanks for all the well wishes, everything going great - he did wait till I got home, so he probably a daddy's boy! Haha" - @Elliott_Sadler, making NASCAR history by being the first driver to announce the birth of his child on Twitter