Opinion: Dial Down Danica Mania

D.Patrick

Danica Patrick is surrounded by media following her historic qualifying run Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick’s Daytona 500 pole is big, but a little perspective will be needed as Speedweeks rolls on.

Make no mistake about it, Patrick will be in the spotlight big time leading into next Sunday’s “Great American Race,” and that’s a good thing for NASCAR.  After an insufferable stretch of speaking about nothing but her relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., it will be a welcome relief to focus on Patrick actually being able to drive a racecar.

“It's good for the race itself,” Patrick said.  “When they mention who's on the pole, they're going to mention when the race is.  That's good for the whole sport.  I don't mind answering questions about the other stuff, but I get that it's not about racing.  It's nice to change the tone of the questions because of what's going on on the track.  That's a good sign and I like that.”

It’s also a good thing for Patrick to bring more attention to the sport, as she’s done since coming to NASCAR three years ago.  The significance of just being a big-league stock car driver has made an impact with hundreds - if not thousands - and Patrick is grateful for the opportunity to hear that positive feedback.

“It's also nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, ‘But mommy, daddy, that's a girl out there,’ ” Patrick said.  “Then they can have the conversation with their kids about, 'You can do anything you want and being different doesn't, by any means, not allow you to follow your dreams.'  I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I'm doing.”

But even in all of Sunday’s euphoria around Patrick’s latest accomplishment, there was criticism.  It’s not a secret she remains one of the most polarizing figures to ever come through NASCAR.

However, even her harshest critics have to recognize some of the milestones Patrick has achieved during her racing career.  Her Indy car resume includes a win in Japan, leading the Indy 500 and finishing fifth in the point standings.  On the NASCAR side of the house, there’s last year’s Daytona Nationwide Series pole and a female-high finish of fourth at Las Vegas to go along with her "500" pole.

Not exactly Hall of Fame material, by any means, but also not too shabby.  Still, Patrick garners more than her share of barbs.  Her boss, car owner Tony Stewart, doesn’t put much stock in the haters.

"Naysayers are people that aren't happy with their lives and have to bring somebody else's down to their level,'' he said Sunday at Daytona.

Fair enough.

But let’s keep a little perspective, here.  Yes, having Patrick lead the field to green in NASCAR’s biggest race is a good thing for the sport.  The morning network television shows and sports talk radio around the country will no doubt be full of conversation this week about Patrick, the race and NASCAR.  However, I’d stop short of predicting that it will all add up to record television ratings and a standing-room-only crowd next Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

Seems like every time something explodes from the sport that grabs the elusive casual fan for a second, we’re told how it will translate to increased exposure and a larger audience.  That certainly didn’t happen last year after the Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer dust-up in Phoenix captured headlines and the Homestead television numbers were actually down the following week.

Patrick should be applauded for doing something on Sunday no woman has ever done in NASCAR.  But I recommend exercising some restraint before visions of grandeur run rampant.

Remember this: Loy Allen, Jeff Green and Ramo Stott also won Daytona 500 poles.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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