The Danica Effect has swept over Daytona Beach this week like a very high tide.
Danica Patrick’s presence at Daytona International Speedway in practice, qualifying and racing in the Automobile Racing Club of America series has generated a boatload of publicity for the speedway, its SpeedWeeks events and stock car racing in general.
Not surprisingly, NASCAR, which could be a major beneficiary of DanicaMania, has noticed.
“It’s given us all the things that any sport or business would love – the exposure, uplift,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said Saturday. “We have people following the sport that may have never looked at it for any other reason. So it’s huge.”
Helton said nothing about the week and Patrick’s huge media following has surprised him.
“We’ve been watching as it’s all unfolded,” he said. “It starts off with a lot of speculation and what-ifs. That in itself created a lot of attention, but then as it became authenticated and there was clarity on exactly what her plan was and it was made public, it grew.
“Then there was the ARCA test here in December. You would have thought it was a Cup test with all the exposure. I think by then most everybody expected it to be what it was here this week, and that it will continue on.”
There has never been a victory by a woman in any of NASCAR’s major series. Patrick plans to run a dozen Nationwide Series events this year.
What would a win by a female mean?
“It would be big,” Helton said. “This is 2010. It would be a huge statement for NASCAR, but it would also be huge for Danica.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.