Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SPORTS >> Patrick still belle of ball

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Where is the line between chauvinism and simple hatred for the hype machine?

Donít ask Danica Patrick fans, or her detractors for that matter.

The 28-year-old Illinois native drives for Michael Andretti in the IZOD IRL series and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the NASCAR Nationwide series. She has caused quite a stir in her part-time move to stock cars at the beginning of the season.

Everyone in the racing world took notice ó especially ESPN.

That was evident with the networkís coverage of the Nationwide race at Fontana, Calif., in late February. Patrickís 31st-place finish three laps down was the lead story, complete with an interview and rundown of her highlights throughout the day.

And after the Danica debriefing was finally completed, ESPN was then able to inform us that, in fact, Kyle Busch had won the race.

But itís not just the shamelessly self-important people over at ESPN who are caught up in Danica mania, it has affected all areas of racing in this country, most notably from a marketing standpoint.

Anyone who has seen the cheesecake-laden GoDaddy.com commercials featuring Patrick and a number of tarts jiggling around in spandex shorts and ripped T-shirts has come to understand the marketing angle. At this moment, Patrickís image is by far the most popular in all of racing, open wheel or NASCAR.

But is it really a matter of being overrated? I donít hear any of these people who are giving Patrick all this attention making claims she will be the next Bill Elliot or Rusty Wallace, who by the way has a niece named Chrissy Wallace entering the world of NASCAR after a successful five seasons in asphalt late models.

I think itís simply a matter of being overexposed because of her attractive looks. Did you ever see Sarah Fisher in a string bikini for an antifreeze advertisement? How about Erin Crocker ripping off her shirt in a Website domain commercial?

No, you didnít, because Crocker and Fisher lack the physique required for such promotions.

But yet Fisher, an 11-year veteran of open-wheel racing, continues to struggle with sponsorship for her under-funded team while Patrickís GoDaddy money seems to have no limit.

But there is another way to look at Danica mania. If youíre an American open-wheel fan, Patrick is one of your few choices for a native racer.

Patrick and Fisher, along with Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal, are the only Americans currently in IRL. And as for NASCAR, I donít know about you, but anything that takes camera time away from Jimmie Johnson is cool with me.

Whether you are offended or tantalized by Patrickís promotions featuring the scantily clad, you have to admit the girl at least seems to have more personality than the reigning four-time Sprint Cup champ. And Patrick does not have a unibrow.

But if you absolutely despise Patrick and know in your heart you will never be able to learn to accept her, fear not.

On March 25, 2012, Patrick will celebrate her 30th birthday.

And we all know that any female ceases to be considered attractive once she hits the big 3-0, at least in popular culture. So unless she sets the world on fire here in the next two years, her time as Americaís favorite racing hottie is set to soon expire.