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Danica Patrick approaching NASCAR's abyss

Updated on March 2, 2015
Patrick brought plenty of exposure and sponsor dollars to SHR over the past 2+ years. But how much longer will she be there?
Patrick brought plenty of exposure and sponsor dollars to SHR over the past 2+ years. But how much longer will she be there? | Source
Patrick has a lot on her mind this year
Patrick has a lot on her mind this year | Source

Despite having never won a stock car race, Danica Patrick remains one of the most popular drivers in the Sprint Cup series. Her 2013 pole start at the Daytona 500 garnered headlines around the country. Yet with sponsorship in limbo and performance stagnant, she is quickly approaching NASCAR's abyss and in danger of seeing her NASCAR dreams go up in smoke. She still has time to prove she belongs but the clock is ticking. Unless something changes soon, Danica Patrick's relevance as a race car driver will be gone for good.

Danica's entry into NASCAR came with plenty of fanfare. She ran a limited schedule at the Xfinity series level, splitting time between IndyCar and NASCAR in 2010 and 2011. Despite the split attention, Patrick showed promise and improvement. That 2011 season saw Danica score a top five and three top ten races in 12 races. Her average finish improved from 28th to 17th in a single season. The success encouraged her to roll the dice and make the switch over to NASCAR full time in 2012. Her Daytona pole raised expectations and gave fans a reason to hope that the best was yet to come.

Her first two Sprint Cup seasons imparted a hard dose of reality. Despite running some of the best equipment in NASCAR she has failed to run up front or contend for race wins. She finished the last two seasons 27th and 28th in points, by far the worst of any driver in comparable equipment. In fact, she landed within a few slots of boss Tony Stewart both years despite driving 18 fewer races. Stewart, a former open wheel driver himself, was expected to ease Patrick's transition to NASCAR. His absence from the track to end 2013 and his distraction in 2014 could not have helped. But in a bottom line business, the results simply have not been there.

GoDaddy has reaped the benefits of having their name on the side of Patrick's car
GoDaddy has reaped the benefits of having their name on the side of Patrick's car | Source

Unlike stick and ball sports, NASCAR teams depend on more than just performing well to survive. Sponsorship dollars can often keep a driver employed even if the results aren't there. Sponsors like to see their car up front but it's not the only reason they're invested. Every company's motivation for entering NASCAR is different and each has their own expectations of a driver. Those expectations include how a driver carries themselves in the media, how much exposure they gain their sponsors during the week, and the image they cultivate. Millions of dollars are spent to sponsor the car and millions more are spent to activate that sponsorship through media buys and ad campaigns.

Over the eight years, Patrick has been a prime example of this. She has starred in numerous Super Bowl commercials for GoDaddy and has been unafraid to sell her sex appeal as part of the bargain. This perfectly matched the company's advertising strategy. For years, GoDaddy's ads featured sexy women in limited clothing. How much those ads had to do with domain registration is unclear but they were effective. GoDaddy is now a worldwide leader in web domain registration and a large part of why that's happened has been Danica Patrick serving as the face of the company.

However, the GoDaddy of today is vastly different than the one that signed on in 2006 for a limited sponsorship deal with Patrick. Her biggest fan was company founder Bob Parsons. He believed in racing sponsorships in general and believed particularly in Patrick's value to their brand. When he was replaced by Blake Irving, Danica lost perhaps her biggest fan. Irving eliminated the company's IndyCar sponsorship. He's made few public comments on Patrick other than to say she remained a part of the company's plans. Yet he also completely redid the company's marketing strategy, focusing on event sponsorships and small businesses. Bikini-clad women and racecars were in short supply. They've made little use of Patrick in ads over the past year and have shown no indication that they're willing to continue to cut an estimated $15-20 million check annually in 2016 and beyond.

Will other sponsors step in with a big enough check to keep Patrick at SHR?
Will other sponsors step in with a big enough check to keep Patrick at SHR? | Source

Assuming that GoDaddy is gone, who could replace those dollars and keep Patrick's NASCAR dreams alive? The market is a large one. Patrick remains an advertisers dream from an image perspective. She has enough “edge” associated with her brand to be cool but she's also the perfect pitchwoman in front of the camera. Hundreds of mainstream products could be easily benefit from an association with Patrick. Some time ago, we looked at the possibility of Danica herself getting a boost by ending a sponsorship that no longer fit who she was. Proctor and Gamble remains a company that would be a natural fit but they're not alone. So it's entirely possible that the reports of Patrick's Sprint Cup demise are greatly exaggerated.

But what if they're not? Danica Patrick without sponsorship can only be described as a liability. She will turn 33 years old this month and has shown little progress to justify the fantastic investment made by GoDaddy and the Stewart Haas Racing. Her lone top five finish in either the Cup or Xfinity series came four years ago (a fourth place run at Las Vegas in the 2011 Xfinity race). All involved expected a transition period but by now she should be moving forward, not backward. There is only so long that the, “She's still learning,” or “She's making progress,” excuses will be accepted. At some point there has to be a return on the investment.

Will her Daytona pole run forever be the highlight of Danica's NASCAR career?

Questions will continue to swirl around Patrick until she either wins or moves on from NASCAR
Questions will continue to swirl around Patrick until she either wins or moves on from NASCAR | Source

If SHR pulls the plug at the end of 2015, Patrick will not find a Cup ride in comparable equipment. The only teams in the same area code are Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing. JGR already has a four car lineup and Penske was unwilling to add a team to support a personal favorite in Sam Hornish Jr. So any move would be at least one step down in terms of the car she's driving. She's also ill-equipped to be the leading driver on a second or third tier team; evidence her consecutive 10th place season finishes at Andretti Autosport in 2010 and 2011. Although she could find another Cup ride, it would be with a team incapable of lifting her performance and would further damage her already fractured reputation.

So Patrick's NASCAR career depends on her ability to make real, sustainable progress in 2015 with Stewart Haas Racing. She needs to prove that she's more than just a marketing machine who only got this far thanks to a few pictures in Maxim magazine. She needs to lead laps because at this point it isn't the car that's holding her back. Nor is inexperience preventing her from being successful. With 145 stock car races under her belt, Danica Patrick is no rookie. If she cannot perform now she never will. Instead of being remembered as a pioneer of women's racing, she will be little more than a footnote. The descent into obscurity can be a quick one in auto racing and Danica Patrick is staring straight into that abyss.

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Will Danica Patrick be at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2016?

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      Mike Roush 2 years ago from Newark, DE

      Anne- I agree wholeheartedly that Patrick certainly is NOT very popular with hardcore NASCAR fans. The people who watch every race flag to flag are not cheering for her. But she still moves a ton of merchandise and interest in her from the general public remains high. If she were to dominate a race, I feel safe in saying that the ratings would be high as casual viewers would stick around.

      That being said, I also am confidant in saying that Patrick's 15 minutes in NASCAR may be hitting 14:59. Unless she shows real, demonstrable improvement in 2015 she is going to find it hard to stick at SHR. And the teams that would take her do not have the equipment anywhere near what she's running now. The spiral of progressively poorer finishes in progressively worse cars will either send her down to the Xfinity series or back to IndyCar. It's now or never for the Cup ride.

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      scott 2 years ago

      I agree with all of the above.... This talentless hack should have never been put into nascar's top series... It has ruined the credibility of the sport..... Which is approaching WWE level as it is....

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      fan4jm 2 years ago

      anybody notice she hasn't been asked back to run any Indycar races? They were so glad to get rid of her. I've been an Indycar fan for years & she was always a mid-packer there too. They were glad to have her leave. There were a couple women drivers there too who I thought were better drivers but didn't have her caliber of equipment to show themselves off & wouldn't rely on whoring themselves out for sponsership.

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      NASCARJeff 2 years ago

      I have a theory that NASCAR picks a writer to publish the Danica Patrick hype of the week article. If true it is not working because most of us with a lick of sense are not buying what Darrell Waltrip and Bob Pockrass are saying.

      DW for his part each week tells us how she has improved and is getting better for missing wrecks with the also ran cars she is in a pack with. Pockrass now with should be ashamed of himself for the dribble he puts out there. Sorry Bob she will never go out with you.

      SHR and NASCAR should realize she is a mid pack driver who should never have left Indycar for a bigger paycheck. Yeah she made a lot of money but that wont buy wins if you don't have the talent.

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      Anne 2 years ago

      and the "pole" vs. "poll" was intentional...:)

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      Anne 2 years ago

      I am always amazed that people "in the know" try to tell us she is one of the sports most popular drivers???????????? On what assumption or fact? The call in pole??? Laughable. The folks that I know and I know plenty, plus seeing brainwashing over the internet. loath her immensely. She is there for a promotion of "gender equality" and is woefully not delivering on the hype or promise or helping real competive females waiting to be "discovered". The only "hard numbers" one can actually see are merchandising sales, and where does that stack up next to certain drivers? Big deal? A novelty no doubt for the 15 minute twitter crowd, but in no way a true race fan serious anything. I hear how she was and is putting butts in he seats..where ????? Does one take a pole at these events to see why these people are here and for what driver? She consistently finishes just ahead of the start and parks and guys with blown engines or other problems. People tried to tell us she "improved", I dunno how is going from 27th in 2013 to 28 in 2014 improvement? Nascar and SHR has insulted our intelligence with this surly person and jumped the shark with her drama at Speedweeks, her grabbing Hamlin, dare I ask if Hamlin did that first, his lively hood would be over! Then a few tears welled up and and hugs galore. We wanted to puke. GoDaddy is paying SHR bills, the hype hasn't and will never delivered. You can spin a 20 place finish all you want, I just want to know where the Nascar media's article on the last weeks 20 place finisher is????????????????????