Danica Patrick has pegged her first full season of NASCAR Nationwide Series competition as a learning experience. Based on the first two races of the 2012 campaign, there are indeed some lessons that need to be learned.
|Ms. Patrick is NOT amused|
LESSON ONE: You haven’t been here long enough to lecture anyone.
Patrick crashed out of last weekend’s Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway after an ill-timed attempt at bump drafting by JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt. Whitt apologized repeatedly over his in-car radio, and again to the media following the race. That did not curb the wrath of Patrick, however, who responded to Whitt’s in-person attempt at an apology with a verbal tongue-lashing in which she reportedly told Whitt – in pointed terms – that he did not have enough experience to attempt such a move and needed to give her “more room” on the race track.
For the record, Patrick has just 28 career starts in NASCAR’s three national divisions; 27 in Nationwide and one in Sprint Cup. The “inexperienced” Whitt, meanwhile, has taken the green flag 33 times in his NASCAR career: five in Nationwide, 26 in Trucks and two in the Sprint Cup ranks. Generally, NASCAR drivers wait until they’ve got a season or two under their competitive belt before giving driving lessons to their less-experienced brethren. Even then, they usually confine their remarks to drivers who have less stock car experience than they do, not more.
LESSON TWO: Sullen Doesn’t Sell.
In her brief NASCAR career, Patrick has already become adept at blowing off the media. After her Daytona Nationwide Series wreck, she climbed from her GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, stomped immediately into the team’s transporter and dispatched a public relations representative to inform the waiting media horde that she would not comment until the event was over. In the Daytona 500, she sat in her crumpled Chevy for nearly 70 laps while her crew attempted repairs; window net affixed in the universally recognized symbol for “leave me alone.” A 21st-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway today once again saw the GoDaddy girl offer only cursory comments to the media.
There’s no law requiring Patrick (or any other driver) to speak to reporters. But as an athlete whose brand arguably is longer on marketing than actual on-track success, she should realize the value of submitting herself to the microphones and cameras, in both good times and bad.
|Do NOT call this woman sexy!|
LESSON THREE: Be Careful What You Complain About
Patrick earned a slew of headlines at the Daytona 500’s annual Media Day when she complained about the media describing her – and other female athletes -- as "sexy."
"Is there any other word that you can use to describe me?" she asked, eschewing – at least for a moment -- those bikini-intensive GoDaddy commercials and photo spreads in Maxim and FHM. If you’re going to appear in a national men’s magazine; splayed out across the hood of a Lamborghini in barely-there beachwear, be prepared for words like “sexy.”
They come with the territory.
Danica Patrick is an outstanding racer, with all the tools necessary for a long and successful NASCAR career. She’ll win races in the Nationwide Series this year, and will eventually learn everything necesary to advance to the sport’s highest level; the Sprint Cup Series. She doesn’t ask to be hounded by a merciless crush of reporters and fans, but she’s also savvy enough to exploit “Danica Mania” to its full economic impact. Network television does her no favors by fawning over finishes like today’s 21st-place Phoenix showing at the expense of – say – Cole Whitt and his 13th-place finish. But again, she didn’t ask for that.
At the end of the day, Patrick needs simply to relax, see the big picture and accept the fact that in the wild, wonderful world of NASCAR, not every day is going to be a good day.