The former IZOD Indy Car Series star is about to complete her first full season of NASCAR competition, and currently ranks 10th in NASCAR Nationwide Series championship points, with two Top-10 finishes and a pole in 29 starts. Her best finish to date was an eighth-place showing at Texas Motor Speedway in April, and in seven companion NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, she has managed no finish better than 25th.
Despite that shaky start, Patrick will graduate to the headline NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time next season, driving for the potent Stewart Haas Racing team. Many question her readiness for that move, but with a high-profile sponsorship from GoDaddy.com in tow, Patrick is on her way, one way or another.
In fairness, Patrick’s 2012 results have been no worse than those of several other drivers with similar backgrounds and experience. Former F1 and Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya had only three Top-5 finishes – including a road course win – in two seasons of part-time Nationwide Series competition at the start of his NASCAR career. Three-time Indy Car champion Sam Hornish, Jr. struggled mightily in his transition to stock cars, managing just two Top-5 finishes – and one win –until finally blossoming as a Nationwide title contender this season.
Patrick will almost certainly require an equal amount of time and patience to adapt to full-fendered competition. Unfortunately, with her unusually high profile comesunusually high expectations. Patrick is not a run-of-the-mill NASCAR racer, allowed to learn and grow in the shadows of anonymity. She is profiled on virtually every pre-race show, regardless of where she qualifies, and is interviewed following every event, no matter where she finishes. Like a nomex-clad Tiger Woods, she receives a postscript mention in every race story and highlight package, enjoying “by the way” status that has nothing at all to do with race day performance.
Barring some semblance of on-track success, Patrick cannot hold America’s interest forever. In fact, there are signs that her “First Lady of NASCAR” storyline has already begun to grow stale.
USA Today reported this week that Patrick's Q Score, an indicator used to track public opinion and likeability, has fallen from a high of 29 in 2010 to 19 this season. That ranking is still relatively high for a race car driver, but Patrick's recent drop in likeability indicates that she no longer connects as strongly with consumers as she once did.
That fact is not lost on the decision makers at GoDaddy.com.
Barb Rechterman, chief marketing officer for Go Daddy, told USA Today this week, "What we're trying to do is redefine sexy to be a small-business owner running a successful business.” Patrick has not been featured in recent ads for the company, and Rechterman said she is not expected to be part of GoDaddy’s annual Super Bowl advertising campaign in 2013. That decision could cost Patrick her seven-figure annual salary as the company’s top spokesperson, though her multi-year racing sponsorship would remain.
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