Danica Patrick is expected to announce this week that she'll drive a full-time Nationwide schedule in 2012 with eyes on driving full-time in Sprint Cup, NASCAR's highest level, by 2013. Word of the announcement has understandably received a ton of buzz, especially considering NASCAR has lost many of the casual fans that flocked to the sport in the last decade after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
But Danica's arrival in NASCAR might come too late for NASCAR and for Patrick herself.
Yesterday, I took a Twitter pollto see if my suspicions about Patrick were right.
I asked if Danica would get my followers to watch more NASCAR?
86.5 percent said no, 7.2 percent said if she won and 6.3 percent said she would.
Now maybe you consider a 6.3 percent bump to be a big one.
Add that to the current viewership numbers and it would still put NASCAR below its 2007 viewership numbers.
So why would Danica be fading?
Well, as a sex symbol, she's older. She'll be 30 next year. But I think the real spoiler is that she's not winning. She has been driving for almost seven years and she has only won once — in Japan of all places (in 2008) — and she has more than 100 starts. There's not much of a reward to watching a good-looking woman, who you can't see in a car, never win. It's the same thing with Michelle Wie. There's not enough of a payoff to watch her if she's not going to win. She turned pro in 2009 and has only won twice and both tournaments weren't in the United States.
Sure, Danica will get endorsement deals that other drivers who have the same winning record wouldn't get, but I don't expect her to be NASCAR's highest earning star. Five years ago, companies could have paid Danica much more because there was a novelty value to her. That novelty has worn off.
I interviewed Danica in June 2006 and I asked her about being compared to Anna Kournikova, who didn't win any WTA singles tournaments (she played 122), but still became a marketing icon. Sure, it was early to ask at the time and, admittedly, I wanted to be first. Her response? "Of the drivers in the (2005 Indy 500), it took the average driver 33 races to win their first race." At the time, it was a good statistical defense. Now, it's not.
It's ironic that the guy who will pay her way in her Nationwide run next year will be Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is still the most popular driver in the sport despite not having won a race since June of 2008, just a couple months after Danica's lone win.
Danica will be able to run in Sprint Cup for years. Being a woman and being attractive is enough. But if she doesn't win, NASCAR's wish of getting a Danica bump is a false hope.
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