Patrick Gets a Taste of NASCAR Reality in Debut Race


A massive crash on the last lap finished Danica's first NASCAR Cup race.

Danica Patrick was understandably the focus of both the media's and crowd's attention during her preparations for her double debut this Sunday. Not only will this be her first appearance in the Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR's premier racing series, it will also be her maiden outing in NASCAR's most famous race: the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway. On Thursday she was involved in a huge accident during the last lap of the first Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

Her Chevrolet was sent spinning into the inner retaining wall at full speed, after she was hit by Aric Almirola, himself a victim of another driver who lost control of his car.

A typically nasty NASCAR incident could have been worse were it not for Patrick instinctively letting go of the steering wheel to avoid damage to her wrists as the car slammed sideways into the wall. Welcome to the club pretty lady! At the beginning of the Speedweeks, Patrick told the media during a press conference, where she was swarmed by 50 journalists, that she prefers to be called 'pretty' rather than 'sexy.' She explained that 'sexy' has a negative twist to it, and is always applied to female athletes, never to males. Aside from this tidbit nothing of interest emerged from the press conference.

During the week, Patrick's participation at the Daytona 500 came under fire following the way she was accepted into the race, with teams trading in points rather through qualifying. Organizers reacted to the criticism by saying that they will consider whether to change the system. However from a commercial point of view, NASCAR officials couldn't care less. Pretty Patrick is the prized asset of American motor racing in the 21st century, maybe like Barnie Oldfield was at the beginning of the previous century. Wherever she turns her attention, huge crowds are attracted as gasoline, asphalt and gas turn into gold and money.

No wonder then that Nielsen N-Score found out that Patrick ranks in the top 5 most recognized NASCAR drivers through January, though she has yet to make her debut at NASCAR's top level. Last year, Patrick took part in the Nationwide series opener at Daytona, and thanks to her presence, race ratings were up 33% according to Nielsen Company. She took part in 13 Nationwide races (1 top 5 finish, 3 top 10 finishes) and in 11 of them the ratings were up by an average of 13%. Although she was just a part timer in the NASCAR second tier series, her merchandise sales on store were ranked among the 15 bestselling drivers.

And last week she was ranked in the top 10 in merchandise sales in 2012. So the statement "Danica Patrick is good for NASCAR" certainly holds true. On Sunday she starts her first Daytona 500 from last spot on the 43-car grid. She is going to have a lot of fun making her way through the field.

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