The Media Darling
By the time Danica Patrick’s NASCAR deal was announced, it had been so long expected that there was no real suspense left to wonder about. I think that everyone with an opinion sounded off about it within the past few months, so it was about as ho-hum as her announced deal with Andretti Autosport a couple of weeks ago.
So why am I devoting more time and effort to discuss Danica Patrick? It isn’t her or her deal that has gotten my attention this week. It’s the way the mainstream media is falling all over themselves to cover the story on their own terms with selective journalism. The regular IndyCar press as well as the NASCAR press both did a credible job with the story. It was the mainstream media, which seems to be the only ones that the so-called Danica fans listen to, that completely butchered the story. They either twisted, manipulated or completely omitted facts in order to present this as an extraordinary move.
When I say Danica fans, I’m not talking about IndyCar fans that happen to like Danica. Instead, I’m talking about the non-race fan that knows nothing of Danica and even less of the Izod IndyCar Series. All they seem to know is that Danica is a babe who should be driving in NASCAR and should also be dating them. It’s hard to take a guy seriously, when he’s wearing a black cap with a teal number 7. Add to that look a stretched-out T-shirt with a full-length photograph of Danica in a sexy pose that is pulled over a middle-aged gut, distorting her body beyond recognition. It’s an image that is all too well emblazoned on my brain.
On Tuesday, I came across an article entitled “Patrick Takes Gutsy Drive Down NASCAR Road” by Jay Hart of Yahoo Sports. In this terribly misguided piece, Mr. Hart refers to Danica Patrick as the “Wonder Woman of IndyCar”. In praising her for making such a bold move, he says “…where she is now, she’s making millions, placed atop a high pedestal with no one in sight to knock her off. That’s what makes this move so gutsy”.
Hmmm…let me get this straight. Danica had a career-best season in IndyCars and finished a distant fifth in the standings. After 82 races, she has collected one win. Those are decent statistics, at best – but they hardly place her alone at the top of the IndyCar mountain. I would think that Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon should merit some consideration for any mountaintop discussion.
Please keep in mind that it is not my intention to bash Ms. Patrick or any of her accomplishments. That’s a discussion for another day. My complaint here, is how the mainstream media has presented this as the only possible career step she could take. According to Mr. Hart, her talent is being wasted in IndyCar. He points out “…the path from the IRL to Cup is littered with the road kill of her (IndyCar) contemporaries”.
Mr. Hart then seems to take great pride in pointing out the well-documented struggles of Franchitti, Sam Hornish and Juan Montoya. Then he rambles on about how it will take at least three years before she could even think about being competitive in the almighty world of racing stock cars. Mr. hart then wraps up his article again talking about how brave she is to risk her entire career just to fulfill her dream of driving in NASCAR.
Not only did Mr. Hart make a drooling spectacle of himself, as most in the mainstream media do over Danica Patrick (i.e. Todd Harris and Brent Musburger), but he failed to mention one key aspect of her NASCAR deal while lauding her for taking such a risk…it’s a part-time deal!
Not once did Mr. Hart even hint that Danica would still be driving IndyCars in 2010. Nor did he mention anything about how she had just re-signed for at least two more years with Andretti Autosport. To read his article, one would assume that Danica had left the lowly world of open-wheel behind, in order to salvage something of a career by driving in NASCAR.
My other point of contention with Mr. Hart is the insinuation that IndyCar drivers are somehow second-rate, as he is so quick to point out the failures of all the IndyCar drivers in NASCAR. Mr. Hart doesn’t bother to mention that no NASCAR drivers have even attempted to drive in a single IndyCar race in almost thirty years. Don’t try to say that Robby Gordon, John Andretti or Tony Stewart did, because they were IndyCar drivers before they were NASCAR drivers.
I recall that Kurt Busch took some laps on a road course in an IndyCar several years back. His times were decent, but he was also the only car on the track. Prior to that, my mind goes all the way back to summer of 1991 when Bill Elliot took some practice laps at Michigan in Eddie Cheever’s Target Lola during the IndyCar race weekend. When he got out, he was shaking and could hardly talk (although some would argue that’s his normal speech pattern anyway). Elliot had nothing but high praise for anyone that was willing to strap themselves into one of those machines.
Although it appears I’m picking on Mr. Hart – his article just happens to be one of the many I’ve read. It just represents the theme of the others I read this week. You may read his full article here.
I realize that the NASCAR schedule doesn’t permit their drivers hopping into an IndyCar race, even if their manufacturers would allow it. But it infuriates me when the struggles of Franchitti and Hornish are held up as examples to demonstrate that only the very best can drive a stock car. Let’s be honest – an IndyCar and a stock car are two completely different animals. Going from one to the other is obviously difficult. But I wish the uninformed masses would stop and realize that the difficulty runs both ways.
But unless Danica goes over there, dominates and then makes sure everyone knows that IndyCars require a lot more skill, the perception will continue. And I don’t think any of that is going to happen.