The Answer

By my count, the ‘next Danica' appeared 19 days after the first one.

That means, assuming static production models, that by the end of the racing season, we'll have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 or so ‘next Danicas' running around. To put it in perspective, it's a fair-sized feature field at your local speedway.

Danica Patrick, for those of you under a rock during the month of May at Indy, is the 23-year-old driver of one of Bobby Rahal's IRL cars. She nearly won the Indy 500 as a rookie, losing out to Dan Wheldon near the finish. In the process, she captivated a country desperately seeking a new sports hero (or heroine, as the case may be).

As DanicaMania gripped the Indy Car world, I boldly predicted that the race was on to find the ‘next Danica,' just as it has been on for years to find the ‘next Jeff Gordon.' Really stuck my neck out on that one, huh?

Erin Crocker seems to be the first ‘next Danica,' in the NASCAR world. Despite the fact that she, like Patrick, has earned her seat in everything she's ever driven, there's this hope that she'll be able to do for NASCAR what Patrick did for the IRL.

Instead of being the next Danica, Crocker would simply like to be the first Erin, and that's as it should be. Crocker is a full-fledged engineer, graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and they crank out fine engineers in addition to kick-ass hockey players. She also can drive a sprint car a little bit, having beaten the King of the Outlaws, Steve Kinser, and the rest of the ‘Mean 15' in World of Outlaws competition. She is the first woman to have ever won a WoO feature, which should speak for itself.

Those who want a next Danica are doomed to disappointment. Crocker will likely be the first woman to get to Cup since Shawna Robinson and Patty Moise, and she'll likely outperform those two pioneers on the basis of training and equipment. Sarah Fisher, who once occupied Patrick's spot as the great female hope of open-wheel racing, will likely get there at some point in the near future, but her road will be longer.

Crocker is her own woman, and she's her own driver, too. What Danica Patrick did for the IRL is nigh on impossible in NASCAR, as the IRL certainly needed her far more than NASCAR needs Crocker. That's not to say that Crocker won't make her own impact on her own merits. She will, and she should be afforded the opportunity to succeed or fail on those same merits rather than someone's assumption.

Qualifying seventh in the ARCA race at Michigan this weekend was a good start. It is just the start, however. Crocker will be around for a good long time, and we'll have the chance to compare her to other drivers, not just female drivers, just like everybody is comparing Patrick to other drivers.

Here's to being the first Erin of NASCAR. You go, driver.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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