Time for Danica to prove she can run with the big dogs

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:34 AM ET

BROOKLYN, Mich. — There is now proof positive in the motorsports world that it doesn’t matter if you win, or are even competitive, to get the best cars and make the most money.

It came earlier this week when Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone declared that Danica Patrick might be just the ticket F-1 needs to win over the American sports fan.

He thinks that Patrick’s marketing magic — that has propelled her to stardom and riches in both the IZOD IndyCar series and the NASCAR Nationwide series — will shore up F-1’s serious problem of keeping fans in front of their televisions in the U.S.

Ecclestone thinks she can bring the right “attitude” to F-1. In fact, what he means is, she can bring fan interest, any interest, to F-1 in America. And while other seemingly more worthy drivers like Canadians Robert Wickens, Andrew Ranger and Bruno Spengler wilt on the sidelines of big time racing, Patrick keeps getting fully sponsored deals wherever she goes.

‘Perfect advert’

“Regarding an American driver, what’s missing is the right attitude,” Ecclestone said.

“But to have someone like Danica Patrick in F-1 would be a perfect advert.”

That Patrick is a walking, talking advertisement isn’t about to be challenged here. However, she has to start to show she can run with the big dogs in NASCAR soon — specifically this weekend at Michigan International Speedway — or her best before date is in danger of running out.

Even her IndyCar win at Motegi in 2008 — the first by a woman in a major racing series — is getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror.

But there she was on Friday at MIS admitting that her inexperience is a great crutch for her lack of forward momentum in stock cars.

“It was good to have a full test day (at Michigan), especially for me not having ever been here in a stock car before,” she said. “It was nice to slowly get up to speed ... I was able to really build up.”

That’s fine but she is getting the benefit of a top crew, with a top team that can build a top car. Patrick soon has to put all those pieces together for a finish, at the very least in the top 15, at a Nationwide race.

Her list of excuses of why she can’t is beginning to wear thin.

For example, when she was asked how she liked the new generation of Nationwide cars that make their second start Saturday, she had no clue as to the difference between it and the old car.

“I honestly can’t tell the difference,” Patrick said. “Ignorance is bliss on some level, and maybe that will play into the new car.”

Well, only she can turn that bliss into a respectable showing Saturday in the NASCAR Nationwide Carfax 250.

“Anything can happen. You can have a really great day and finish in the top 10,” she said. “You can have a bad day and crash on the first lap. All these things can happen. The top 15, top 20 is realistic for me.”

Patrick and her handlers are clever enough to keep expectations low, but that only works for so long. In the racing game, results are the only gauge by which a driver can be judged.

But maybe in her case that is changing.

After all, Ecclestone, who back in 2005 infamously dismissed Patrick, saying a woman in racing “should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances”, appears now to be ready to put her in an F-1 car without so much as even a test.

This isn’t to say Patrick is without talent. The 28-year-old proved long ago that she can wheel a race car, but she now has to prove she can win, at least more than once every three years.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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