Before this season, Danica Patrick had to decide if she wanted to again run the ARCA race at Daytona in February as a way to gain more experience in a stock car.
She had driven in that race in 2010, overcoming a spin to finish sixth, a result that left her smiling after exiting the car. But that day was one reason why Patrick chose not to run in the ARCA race this season.
"To be honest, if I go back for a second time, this is maybe my own fear, but you all expect me to do better,'' Patrick told reporters in February. "There's that added pressure of like it's not just to go out there and drive around for the day. Like, 'OK I did it last year, now I need to do better this year.' That's an added pressure. Public perception was one [of the reasons].''
The expectations will only intensify for Patrick.
She announced Thursday that she'll move to NASCAR full time next year, running the Nationwide season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team and eight to 10 Sprint Cup races with Tony Stewart's team, Stewart-Haas Racing. No decision has been made on what Cup races she'll drive next year, although the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and races in Phoenix, Chicago, Texas and Las Vegas seem likely for various reasons. She also wouldn't rule out a chance to run next year's Indianapolis 500. She's expected to move to Cup full time in 2013.
Her announcement was followed by a 94-word statement from NASCAR chairman Brian France saying how the sport was "pleased'' she would move to that series full time, and an 85-word statement from IndyCar CEO Randy Bernhard, who noted that his series "should give her a great farewell the rest of this season,'' noting how she has "touched millions of fans and many that were new to motor sports.''
Such attention is rare. If Patrick felt like she was in a fishbowl in IndyCar, wait until all of NASCAR nation begins to judge her. It started on Twitter from fans. Brad Keselowski (Twitter handle @keselowski) also offered a detailed explanation on how he feels about Patrick's entrance, noting that some of the best racers he competed against in quarter midgets were girls but how many didn't make it up higher levels for various reasons.
Then he wrote on Twitter: "All that said, her assent up the ladder of the sport thru various branding 'techniques' (swimsuit ads etc) only serves to undermine the ... future credibility of female races who wish to make it based on skill, mental toughness and a never give up attitude. That to me is wrong. Essentially, she has opened a pandoras (sic) box for all female racers. If she doesn't succeed, no female will get the chance for years to come.''
Keselowski brings up a key issue related to Patrick's announcement and how she could impact future races. But it's only one facet of the fallout from Danica's announcement Thursday.