DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Some observations on two drivers, each – or both – of whom could play a pivotal role in today’s Daytona 500.
To some Danica Patrick is a breath of fresh air; a catalyst to peak the nation’s interest in NASCAR and curiosity over a female competing in a predominantly male sport.
The proof, they say, is to simply look at the wealth of attention she brought to Indy Car competition before she switched to stock cars.
Others claim Patrick is nothing more than a bright, good-looking marketing magnet with more interest in promoting herself than a sport.
They add that the media has taken it upon themselves to shove Patrick down their throats – reporting on her every word and action to the point of distraction.
Some say Patrick is more smoke than substance and question her driving ability. They express the belief that if she didn’t have the wherewithal to lure sponsorship and media attention, she wouldn’t enjoy relationships with top teams in Sprint Cup and Nationwide – or the equipment they provide.
As for the fact she won the pole for Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300, well, NASCAR had the fix on.
Which is nothing but conspiracy theorists’ blather.
Patrick used her skill and JR Motorsports preparation and equipment to become the first woman to win a pole at Daytona International Speedway. Nothing more and nothing less.
It’s a mystery why some choose not to believe that. Why is it so hard to accept a unique, even historical, feel-good story when we all have done it freely, and repeatedly, in the past?
It’s because Patrick is involved. And with that comes the belief that her skills aren’t good enough to allow her such an achievement without “assistance.”
If nothing else, I hope I make this point strongly enough: Patrick does have skills. She has, and has had, the ability to drive a race car. Her peers know this.
While I’m sure that her marketing skills and sponsor dollars were part of her lure to JR Motorsports, let’s not forget the team is in the business of winning Nationwide races, among other things.
If the team thought Patrick didn’t have the ability to do just that, it wouldn’t have hired her.
Yes, Patrick is a rookie in a Sprint Cup developmental role with Stewart Haas Racing. She’s scheduled to compete in just 10 races this year.
Sure, she brought the needed dollars that helped her cause. But if Tony Stewart, who is nobody’s fool, did not believe Patrick had potential and could achieve the goals she and the team have established, he wouldn’t bother.
Yes, Patrick wrecked in a Gatorade Duel and in the Nationwide race. Neither was her fault and should be considered part of her learning curve.
I haven’t said a thing here Patrick hasn’t already heard, likely many times.
She knows exactly what is going on and the perceptions people have of her.
Unfazed, she accepts it all.
“I think that people can choose to look at what I have done and like it. Or they can look at it and choose to judge it and think it is not enough,” Patrick said. “I don’t think you are ever going to change the people that want to cheer for you and the people that don’t want to cheer for you.
“It’s funny. I did see somebody say something right after my win (in Motegi, Japan). I saw something that said ‘Oh let’s see what she does against the people in the United States.’
“I thought how funny that a casual fan didn’t know that was the Indy Car Series racing in Japan. I just thought that was a random funny thing.
“I really think that the people that write have the ability, and there are fortunately enough to be there every weekend, to see what I do. They can draw their own opinions.”
While Patrick knows precisely where she stands in racing, the attention she draws and all that comes with it – good and bad – it is likely she will not change.
“No, I don’t I enjoy being different,” she said. “I enjoy being unique. I enjoy it all. I really do.
“I chose to look at the positives that come with it instead of the negatives, but it is a balance. The ups are really good and the downs are sure disappointing.
“Partly because I’m used to the down part is why I feel, what’s not to like? I’m followed well and I have lots of great fans and I’m always so grateful when people write nice things about me.
“I feel good. The people that don’t like me, well, I also respect that perspective as well.”
And now for another, quick observation:
Kyle Busch knows exactly what is going on. He gets it.
The younger Busch brother is a driver who has repeatedly displayed his considerable skill.
He has won multiple times on NASCAR’s top three national circuits, including this year’s Budweiser Shootout. Perhaps the most graphic example of his talent came in that race.
Busch kept his car under control twice when he could have easily spun and wrecked. Then he made a masterful move to pass Stewart and win the race by the closest margin in its history.
I think most fans have accepted Busch’s driving talent, even if grudgingly.
But instead of being widely admired, Busch is vilified. He is NASCAR’s “bad boy,” its spoiled, sometime immature, brat.
In a bout of anger he’s been known to take matters in his own hands and not worry about the consequences.
Which he did last year when he deliberately wrecked Ron Hornaday in a truck race at Texas. NASCAR suspended Busch for the track’s Cup event. That cost him any chance at a championship.
I have said before Busch would serve himself well if he became a changed man. I don’t know if he has any intention of doing so.
But I do know he’s very aware of how he is perceived – both in talent and personality – and at least accepts and prepares for it.
“After the Shootout, there was just a lot of encouragement,” Busch said. “Things like, that it’s one of the best they’ve ever seen, it’s something that they’ve never seen – some would say that there’s few that can do it, but they know that I may be the only one that’s ever done it. Just stuff like that.
“After the race, my phone was blowing up with over 100 text messages and 25 emails. I had
a long next day getting back to everybody and answering everybody.
As for the other side, Busch might find it a little more difficult to swallow, but he seems ready for it.
“At races, I hear the fans a little bit,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to hear them when you don’t have your helmet on.
“I keep my helmet on when I get out of the car in case of unidentified flying objects. I’ve learned from my past experiences.
“It’s always fun that you get to be able to get out of the car and hear the rants of the crowd, whether they be cheers or boos or applause or what have you – and get to do your victory bow.
“That’s the greatest satisfaction of winning a race.”
Yep, Kyle Busch knows exactly what’s going on.