Ricky Stenhouse needed to figure out a team name for a Nationwide Series version of the “Family Feud” game recently.
He looked at his team of Nationwide drivers – himself, Sam Hornish Jr., Brian Scott, Justin Allgaier and Danica Patrick – and a team name popped into his head:
“Danica and Those Other Guys.”
“I didn’t want the media to get confused about who we were, so I went with ‘Danica and The Other Guys’ because I figured that’s our series, right?” Stenhouse said.
Everyone had a good laugh. Except maybe Patrick, who shouted, “Nooo.”
The issue has followed Patrick everywhere she’s gone in recent years – criticism over her dominating too much of the spotlight. It was an issue when she raced in the IndyCar Series as too much media attention was placed on the woman known as much for her sexy poses in advertisements as for her racing ability.
Now that Patrick will race full time in NASCAR after two years of part-time competition for JR Motorsports, it wouldn’t be surprising if the issue comes up on a weekly basis. Surely, other drivers notice the attention – when Patrick announced she was coming to NASCAR full time, even NASCAR Chairman Brian France put out a statement about the impact.
That doesn’t happen for other drivers.
There has been some muttering from some drivers and teams already about the attention she is getting, and the fact that she will run 10 Sprint Cup races, including the Daytona 500, means that Yahoo’s most searched athlete will get more, well, searched.
At least publicly, drivers are saying that’s a good thing for them, too.
“If she’s in the race, and I go out there and win the race and run up front, I’m going to get TV time, too,” Richard Childress Racing’s Elliott Sadler said. “It’s not like it’s me against her or anything like that. She’s bringing a whole new audience to the Nationwide Series we didn’t have two or three years ago.”
While Sadler has had his share of notoriety after more than a decade in Cup, other drivers are trying to get noticed.
“It’s difficult because sometimes you get caught up in the fact that you hope that you get more time on TV and you hope you do all these things,” said Turner Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier, who is in his fourth year in Nationwide and seeks his first Cup opportunity. “But if you’re winning races and you’re running up front, you’re going to get the same amount of TV time you did before.
“The thing we all have to remember is we need the fans. They’re obviously the most important [aspect] of our sport. If they’re not there, we’re not there. If that’s who they want to see, that’s who they want to see.”
Patrick takes a similar attitude – she can’t dictate what the media does or who people want to see.
“I can’t control what people focus their attention on, what they talk about, and what is said to the other drivers, what is asked to the other drivers,” Patrick said. “I’m sure they do get questions. I don’t really know the extent of that. My hope is they think about my relationship with them as a friend and as a competitor.”
That’s the way Sadler approaches it. He sees Patrick as a solid competitor, one who set a NASCAR national series standard for a female driver with a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas in March 2011.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “She’s going to be one of the biggest names in our sport. She is one of the biggest names in the Nationwide Series, if not the biggest, and that’s great with me.
“She’s going to bring more sponsor attention, more fan attention. And she can drive. In the last two years, she’s probably the most improved race-car driver that we have in the whole circuit.”
The other drivers hope that if Patrick drives ratings, then they will have more opportunities to attract sponsors.
“Obviously in a time where it’s hard to engage fans with all sports, you have to have that upper edge,” Allgaier said. “Obviously she’s a huge media draw. We’re glad to have her. She’s competitive as well.”
And for what it’s worth, Patrick says the team name that Stenhouse gave the group is not her perception of the series.
“When Ricky said something about that’s what it is [like], that’s not true,” Patrick said. “There’s tons of great racing out there and if I was out there by myself, nobody would be watching. Trust me.
“I don’t agree [with him]. I do get a little uncomfortable sometimes but only because I don’t want them to think I agree with that. There’s a lot of great personalities and drivers, and they all make the series, that’s for darn sure.”
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