Danica Patrick At Indy500, Her Best Not Enough

Danica Patrick might not be IndyCar's most popular driver anymore, either because fans are tired of the excuses, don't like her turning on her teammates, or are unhappy because she's splitting time between open-wheel and NASCAR. Patrick has said she made a mistake in criticizing her teammates, but insists there are issues with the car. She'll start outside the top 10 for the first time in six Indys.

Despite the sexy commercials, big-buck sponsors, model looks and international attention, she's yet to win the big one - the Indy 500 - or even string together enough smaller wins to match the attention she garners off the track.

Moreover, to some she has committed the ultimate open-wheel sin by dabbling with those full-fendered boys in NASCAR.

Could there be a Danica backlash brewing?

As the sport gets ready today for the IndyCar Series' 94th running of the Indianapolis 500, some long-time followers of open-wheel racing are thinking there just might be.

Last week, after publicly blaming her car for her poor qualifying effort that has her starting in Row 8, fans booed Patrick at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which some have taken as a sign that her pristine image may be starting to turn.

"Truthfully, I talked to some of the fans that were there," says Marty Reid, who will work the broadcast booth for ABC's telecast today starting at 1 p.m. "There is a bit of resentment that she went over to NASCAR by some of them. There's those that felt like she threw her team under the bus."

The NASCAR foray has Patrick testing the waters in a handful of races this season, which started at Daytona in February. For fans of IndyCar, which popularity wise is behind NASCAR, that was like someone willingly leaving the Yankees for the Red Sox.

"Getting booed does not make me want to go somewhere else more," Patrick tells Bloomberg. "Hopefully just as quickly as they get mad, they get happy and cheer for me."

Not surprising, there are a handful of I Hate Danica Patrick pages on Facebook, where, of course, the fans are piling on.

"She's setting out to be a Sideshow Performer instead of a legitimate driver!" says one poster this week.

Patrick is one of four women starting in Sunday's race. Ana Beatriz will start 21st, Simona De Silvestro will start 22nd, Patrick 23rd, and Sarah Fisher 29th.

Sunday is the first time Patrick hasn't started among the top-10 at Indy where she finished third last year.

Helio Castroneves, also a fan favorite, is on the pole for the race, and at the precipice of winning a historic four Indy 500s.

Yet, despite Castroneves' appeal, a majority of the eyes in the stands - and the media - will be focusing on what Patrick does.

No other race on the IndyCar circuit draws as many fans or media attention, so Patrick's turn comes on the sport's biggest stage.

"More than personality, success breeds fans," said long-time motorsports writer Lewis Franck, a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. "It's been two years since her only victory."

Franck suggests that Patrick's honeymoon is over.

"It hurts my feelings, of course, I don't want to be booed," Patrick told ESPN's Hannah Storm this week.

"I feel bad if I offended anyone, for sure, and, of course, I don't like not to have a good public opinion."

Earlier this year, Patrick ran at Daytona in cars co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The two together, interestingly, are in similar predicaments. Both are the most popular drivers in their genres, both are with good teams, yet neither has been able to put together the performance on the track to match the fan and media attention.

Likewise, those vaulted spots carry an additional burden to win that, in Patrick's case, isn't riding on the shoulders of the drivers starting next to her today.

"They're all competitors, they all want to win, but Danica, in my opinion, because of the exposure, the platform, the high Q score, the recognition, she carries more pressure," says Terry Angstadt, president of the IndyCar Series commercial division.

Angstadt says he was a little surprised by the boos Patrick got last week, but he says Patrick has always been very passionate and outspoken.

More important, controversy also builds attention for the sport.

NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, Angstadt noted, gets as many boos as cheers, and that hasn't hurt the stock car series.

"She will have far more people cheering for her to make history," Angstadt said of Sunday's race.

There's no doubt that simply having her in the field is good for the IndyCar series.

Watch any show skewed toward a male audience - even the Super Bowl - and one is bound to see a sexy godaddy.com commercial featuring Patrick. That visibility helps bring fans to the IndyCar series.

Fans line up at trackside souvenir stands in far greater numbers for Patrick than any driver. And, earlier this week, when the series brought the drivers to Manhattan for a promotional event she got a louder cheer than anyone else in the field.

Yet, cheers only go so far.

And it was outside Macy's on Tuesday that Patrick managed to do her best bit of maneuvering, steering clear of the media, save one lone interview session with Bloomberg News Service, before being whisked inside the department store to eat and sign autographs.

ESPN.com writer Terry Blount suggested that Patrick might be heading for something scarier than an Indy wreck - irrelevancy.

"I think Danica would be the first to agree, she is driven and focused to perform every time out there," Angstadt said. "Is she happy with where she is right now? I don't think so. Everyone involved, especially Danica, understand its performance that counts."

And for IndyCar, having Patrick do well is what everyone is rooting for in Indianapolis.

Ratings spike when she does well, such as her third-place finish last year.

When she ran at Daytona in February, ratings jumped more than 30%.

"Our sports world is just like everything else in business: What have you done for me lately?" says Reid. "I think there are some fans out there that are going to be demanding her to do well and not just to finish in the top 10, but she's got to have the podium, she's got to win. They're going to keep putting that pressure on as time goes on."

That pressure could be relieved - along with some of the boos - with a win Sunday at Indianapolis.

"I might get booed if I win, too, but that's OK," Patrick told the Associated Press. "Winning will solve everything for me. That's the be-all, end-all cure for me. I don't know if it'll cure everything from the fans' perspectives, but I can't force them to feel a certain way."

Becoming the first woman to ever win the historic race could erase bad feelings and propel Patrick to even greater heights.

"That would be a real big deal," Angstadt said of a Patrick win Sunday. "That would be world-wide news."


Popular posts from this blog

'Thainee', The world's Smallest Porn Star

"The Female Genitalia", If God made it, Why should Man remove it?

Celebrities Who Wax Off The Entire Expanse Of Their Pubic Hair