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Fast Take   Story by Dwight Drum
Web work by Larsen & Drum    Images by Drum & Gary Larsen
Girl Power: NASCAR = Danica Patrick? NHRA = Ashley Force!
 

Maybe question marks and exclamation points are the most basic grammatical attractions that a mundane sentence or title can hope for, but when the subject is hot and strong -- then any emphasis seems proper. Take a look at the following quote from NHRA’s female star Funny Car driver Ashley Force Hood.

“We need a little girl power over there in NASCAR!” Force Hood said.


 

Note how the exclamation point doesn’t overpower the words in the sentence. The statement justifies the accent.

“For me the most important thing is performing and having the ability and having the resources to get there faster.” Patrick said. “So when it's a top team calling, it makes it more attractive.”

No need for a question mark here. Patrick has stated her case for a possible move to NASCAR in one short sentence. Her focus is having the ability to go to NASCAR and then having the resources to back up her ability as she proves her worth through performance. No need for an exclamation point either as she has calmly defined her thoughts.

Cathy Elliott, an official NASCAR columnist, offered precision comments about Patrick’s situation in a recent article with an emphasis on a two question marks brought up by Patrick.

After a few years of hearing Danica Patrick claiming to have little or no interest in moving from open-wheel racing to NASCAR, suddenly she seems to have flipped her internal radio to a new station, and this one’s playing a different tune.

“I’m very flattered everyone is curious,” Patrick said in a recent interview. “It’s interesting to me as well. Do I stay where I am? Do I try to change? It’s all about evaluating options, and I think that’s something any good business person does.”

Patrick has to be taken seriously as a driver. She finished third in this year’s Indianapolis 500. She can drive.

Patrick reminds me of Tiger Woods, in a way. Not because of dominating performances, since she hasn’t achieved that level of success yet, but because regardless of who your favorite driver is or who you want to win, you always know where she is on the track.

I don’t think sponsorship in NASCAR would be a problem. Folks who have never seen a NASCAR race would undoubtedly check it out, and a lot of them would realize they liked it, and would stick around, even if Patrick ultimately didn’t.

Force Hood pondered Patrick’s move and compared it to her drag racing world.

“If she does make the decision to move to NASCAR,” Force Hood said. “I’m sure it’s something that she’s been thinking about for a long time and not something that people have pushed her to do. I’m sure that there will be a learning curve in driving a different type of car and driving alongside a different group of people but as with anything, if it is something that she wants enough she’ll battle through that and be a great competitor in NASCAR.


 

“Drag racing is very different from other types of motorsports so I would never even consider changing as I love racing because I love the speeds we hit, and the intense short spurts of racing. However Indy Car is more similar to NASCAR so I can see why drivers make the switch. If she makes the move, I wish her luck.”

Patrick has a solid way of not saying what she is planning, if even she knows her decision.

“My general answer would be that I hope I have a good Christmas and know what I'm doing for next year,” Patrick said. “I want to do well in the series, I want to finish as high as possible, I want to win as many races as I can, so I don't want to do anything that would take away from that being able to happen.

“There might be even some legal things. I have to look at the contract. I'm not sure when I can actually say what I'm going to do. But I don't want to even worry about it until the seasons over anyway.”

Open-wheel winners and NASCAR drivers Juan Montoya and Tony Stewart made the open-wheel switch and both know the difficulty, first hand.

“I think she’s got the talent to do it, the ability to do it -- it’s a hard challenge,” Montoya said. “Are people going to be patient enough for her to struggle? -- that’s the million dollar question. If she decided to come and somebody decides to hire her -- are they willing to know that she is going to struggle sometimes. You look at the pace that Joey (Logano) has in the Nationwide car and it’s incredible and you look at his pace in a Cup car and it’s nowhere near as good. Open-wheel to this is very different. When you say she had a top-five in an IndyCar race against a top-five here -- it’s very different. A top-five here is like three wins in Indy car or something like that.”

Tony Stewart agreed.

“Nobody knows whether she can do it until she gets out and tries. This is not a sport and a series where you’re just going to show up once in a while and be good. That’s what happened with me in ‘96 and ‘97. In ‘98 when I ran 22 Busch races (now Nationwide Series), I started getting it. But I was in the car just about every week to start learning that feel, and it was hard to bounce back and forth and be good in both.

“Obviously, she’s gotten where she is because she has a ton of talent. It’s not something that you can kind of sneak up on. You’ve either got to do it or not do it.”

It’s likely no one will ever accuse Stewart of being pretty and that one factor plus gender and name recognition makes Patrick’s situation very different from the circumstances of Stewart’s switch. But it still takes tall talent and about that there seems to be no question.

Mike Hull, manager for Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCars, knows Patrick’s skills and had clear comments about her abilities.

“She represents American race drivers, if not worldwide race drivers, better than most people in her peer group, in her profession. We’d be proud to have her drive one of our cars if we had a seat available. Right now we don’t."

Hull’s owner, Chip Ganassi, feels Patrick is on the verge of accomplishing huge achievements in IndyCar and has plenty of time to complete goals there before switching series. So what does Hull think about her impact on NASCAR?

“I can’t speak for Danica,” Hull said. “Danica needs to speak for Danica. I think she has the ability to win the Indy 500. She has the ability to win races in the IndyCar Series and she could win races in any form of motor racing she wants to choose. If she chooses to go NASCAR racing, she’ll go NASCAR racing with same tenacity that she does in IndyCar racing so the sky is the limit for her.”


 

Eddie Cheever is seasoned open-wheel champion driver and owner and had a clear and vivid description of Patrick’s skills and position.

“She’s a great driver,” Cheever said. “I questioned her ability to be able to compete consistently when she arrived in the IRL. She’s totally proven me and a bunch of other people wrong. I do not think it would be mission impossible for her to do well in Cup racing, but it would be a project, a lot of testing, racing in Nationwide, a whole bunch of humble pie. But I know she has the ability and I think she has the physical stamina to train enough to do it.

“If she were to have the same position inside of NASCAR as she has inside of IRL her earning would be multiplied by 10."

Cheever fully understands the marketing marriage between motorsports and Corporate America.

“You are a walking advertisement for a company that has based an advertising campaign on the team that you are in,” Cheever said. “You are the arrowhead. You can’t be blunt. You’ve got to be piercing. You’ve got to say what you think. You’ve got to get across. Sunday is a very big part of it. It’s also what happens after Sunday. Some drivers get it. Some drivers don’t. Danica Patrick? She gets it. She may only be in fifth position (IndyCar points), but she has the name recognition that is way ahead of anybody else. Way ahead. “
 

“NASCAR has so many viewers and so many partners,” Patrick said.

That statement could easily be accompanied by an exclamation point or maybe even dollar signs. Patrick looks forward like all good racers -- way beyond the next corner.

“That's what I leave up to my agents, Patrick said. “As they tell me, which is the best thing, 'All I have to do is go out there and perform and they'll take care of the rest,' so that's what I'm going to do.”

Her final comment here has an appropriate period at the end. Whether or when Patrick decides on NASCAR being her future can be only known by a very few people. Even with respect to her talent and commercial value, the outcome of any move is uncertain.

Period.


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