A few NASCAR drivers have started to show their frustrations at the media firestorm that is Danica Patrick at Daytona.
Patrick has been at the center of attention.
Following up her debut in NASCAR's double-A equivalent minor league, ARCA, current IRL driver Danica Patrick continues to be the story in what is supposed to be NASCAR's biggest week. Patrick finished 6th in the ARCA race and exceeded most expectations, considering the race was her first in a stock car.
Patrick's ARCA ride
Building on that success, Patrick and her team, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports, decided to give her the green light for the Nationwide Cup race on Saturday (Patrick has an agreement to drive at least 12 Nationwide Series events, considered the Sprint Cup's triple-A circuit). The first practice for the Nationwide Series race took place on Wednesday.
The subsequent media frenzy, with reporters focused on Patrick, has thinned out the crowds for some of the sport's biggest drivers. Jeff Gordon emerged from his traveling trailer surprised at the few scant reporters waiting for him outside. Other drivers have encountered more questions about Patrick than about their own preparations for the start of the NASCAR season, but all the big names have handled the media with aplomb. Jimmy Johnson, four-time defending Sprint Cup champion, noted that he was encouraged by her presence: "As long as it is bringing eyes to the television sets and putting butts in the seats in the stands, that is a good thing."
But unfortunately, the incredible publicity that Patrick has brought to the sport has not been uniformly welcomed. From the seemingly-always controversial Twitterverse, Scott Speed and Regan Smith had this to say, respectively:
"According to the media not only is Danica the most amazing racing driver since Dale Sr., but she also is related to Jesus."
"Maybe ESPN could cover Danica on ESPN2 and the other 50-plus cars on ESPN classic or something."
For the record, neither of these guys have much credibility for their NASCAR careers. Between the two of them, there are 100 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts with an average finish position of around 30th place. Still, for a sport with a desperate need for a ratings boost, during its most important week of the year, with a driver who has been a bonus for every circuit she's been a part of, it's curious to see some low-level drivers deliver some media criticism (both Tweets seem more like criticisms of media than Patrick, right?).
The question, therefore, is how will ESPN's coverage of Saturday's Nationwide Series race maintain balance? Direct from the mouth of ESPN vice president of motorsports Rich Feinberg:
"First and foremost, it's about racing in Daytona. It's the biggest race for a lot of people. You win at Daytona and things change for you. And that's going to be our primary thing. After that, the next biggest story, and quite frankly opportunity for all of us, is Danica. It's our strong belief that there will be people that turn on Saturday's Nationwide telecast that perhaps don't watch a lot of Nationwide races or NASCAR at all, because of the interest in her. We want to serve that curiosity. We want to serve that interest because our belief is if they like what they see, and we provide them what they're interested in, they may come back next week, and next week, and watch Fox's Daytona 500 coverage, and read more stories. The more people that watch, the more successful the entire sport is. It's a balance thing but we also view it as an opportunity."To me, that speaks volumes (also notice how in sports, people typically refer to female athletes by their first names). For Speed and Smith, it looks like they will be getting plenty more Patrick coverage. And they won't have to look too hard to find it.