By JEREMY FLYNN
First of all, let me start this article by saying that I am a big Danica Patrick fan. I’m a fan for multiple reasons, but the main one being that I feel that she has broken many barriers for women to get into the sport of NASCAR. In what has been viewed as a very traditional arena in terms of diversity, Danica has proven that women can get to the top level of the sport and she has opened up many doors for others in the future.
With that being said, unfortunately, her on-track performance doesn’t compare to her off-track honors. In her four year Sprint Cup Series career, Danica has scored 118 starts, but only six top-10s. She has no wins, no top-fives and no Chase berths. In fact, in her Sprint Cup career, she has only led a total of 27 laps. So why did Stewart-Haas sign her to a multi-year contract extension earlier this year? Do they think she can turn it around and be a strong competitor? The real reason, in my opinion, is that Patrick is a great source for revenue.
This brings up the question of, “How?” Although Danica’s on-track performance doesn’t yield many financial returns for Stewart-Haas, she is arguably the most marketable star in NASCAR. Don’t agree? Think about it. Danica may be running mid-pack, but each and every week, there will be a camera following her throughout the day and she always has the opportunity for a pre, and most of the time, post-race interview. As a sponsor, I most certainly would want that attention for my brand. In a world where NASCAR teams are dealing with rising costs and lackluster TV ratings, Stewart-Haas has struck a gold mine with Danica. Even with the loss of GoDaddy.com at the end of 2015, Nature’s Bakery signed on as Danica’s primary sponsor in 2016. It wasn’t because of her performance; it was because she fit their brand of health-savvy individuals with her active lifetsyle. Oh, did I mention that her merchandise sales rival those of Dale Earnhardt Jr.? When it comes to advertising, she is a great asset, because she is different and that is something NASCAR has lacked in the past.
Now, back to the track. Can Danica compete? I surely hope so. Nothing would be better for NASCAR than to have a female as a top competitor in such a male-dominant sport. NASCAR needs that boost and she would be the one who could deliver. In 2016, Billy Scott will replace Daniel Knost as the crew chief for Danica, marking yet another change in that position. They seem to be throwing all they have behind her in support, but is it enough? The specific terms of Danica’s multi-year contract have not be released, but I would bargain to say that 2016 will be a pivotal year for the longevity of her stay in the Sprint Cup Series.