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For NASCAR, Danica should be No. 1 priority

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Mike Bianchi
February 14, 2011
— There have been a laundry list of theories and solutions about how NASCAR can regain its popularity, rekindle its TV ratings and recapture its fan base.

The concepts have ranged from a new points system to shorter races to uniform start times to drivers reconnecting with fans and showing more color and candidness.


These are all fine ideas, but I have a better one that is much more foolproof and much less complex:


Danica.


That’s it.


Just Danica.


Thank you very much, NASCAR.


Just send that $10 million you were going to spend on consultants to my mailing address at the Orlando Sentinel.


Just like that, I’ve saved the sport. I’ve given Brian France and his fellow NASCAR suits the idea, but now it’s up to them to do everything in their vast power to implement it and make Danica Patrick a relevant.


The movers and shakers of NASCAR have been accused by past conspiracists of scripting race outcomes like Richard Petty winning No. 200 on the Fourth of July in Daytona with President Ronald Reagan in attendance or Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the Pepsi 400 in the first race back at Daytona only a few months after his father perished in the Daytona 500. I don’t necessarily believe it, but if there is a shred of truth to what the conspiracy theorists say then NASCAR might want to consider choreographing a scenario that that would turn Danica Patrick into a champion.


Better yet, how about a script that would have Danica barreling past Dale Earnhardt Jr. and knocking him and Jimmie Johnson into the wall as she wins the Daytona 500?


“That would get everybody’s blood pumping, wouldn’t it?” said veteran driver Mark Martin when asked how much it would elevate the sport if Danica ever became a factor.


She’s got everything NASCAR could possibly want except for the fact that her name isn’t Danica Earnhardt Jr. She’s got the personality, the pizzazz, the zeal, the sex appeal, the media adoration and fan adulation. And she certainly has the fire and desire.


“I want to do well,” she told a group of writers at the Daytona 500 Media Day earlier this week. “I want you (media) guys to have good things to write about me. I want people to be entertained. I want them to believe in me as a driver.”


Believe me, Danica, everybody wants to believe in you. You are, without a doubt, NASCAR’s great sprite hope.


If you don’t believe it then ask yourself this: Why was there a huge crowd of reporters surrounding Danica’s table at Media Day and only a handful of writers across the room interviewing defending Daytona 500 champion Fred, er, Jamie McMurray?


The fascination with Danica is off the charts and this is why NASCAR must pour everything it has into her advancement. I used to think NASCAR Nation would come around and finally embrace five-time champion Jimmie Johnson—one of the greatest, if not the greatest, driver of all-time—but it’s not happening. Ratings and attendance have continued to plunge during Johnson’s half-decade of dominance.


It’s become clear that Dale Jr. just doesn’t have what it takes to become a champion. He has been on the circuit for a dozen years now and never won a title. In recent years, even though he is driving for powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, he has plummeted to the level of irrelevancy.


Remember when JFK proclaimed that we were going to put a man on the moon? It’s time now for NASCAR to focus on putting a woman in victory lane. Danica Development should be the sport’s No. 1 priority. Do whatever it takes to make her competitive. Give her the best car. Give her the best equipment. Give her the crew chief who is the best cheater (see Chad Knaus).


Give her a 24/7 tutor to teach her how to drive stock cars and pay her whatever she wants so she will quit splitting her time between NASCAR and IndyCar. Her contract with IndyCar is up at the end of this year, which means she is available as a full-time NASCAR driver next season.


Let’s face it, she’ll never amount to anything in NASCAR if she doesn’t fully commit to it. Last year was her first year driving a stock car in the Nationwide series and the results were underwhelming to say the least. In 13 races, she never finished in the top 15 and finished in the top 20 only once.


Still, she creates interest. She inflames passion. She draws a crowd.


“I just feel really lucky,” she tells the horde of writers at Media Day. “I’m lucky people care about my story and they want to read about it or hear about it, and that you all write about it.”


Make it happen, NASCAR.


Forget about the Car of Tomorrow.


Make Danica your Star of Tomorrow.



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