I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but my first thought when I heard Danica Patrick had won the pole for the Daytona 500 was . . . well, NASCAR has done it again.
I plead guilty to being a cynic and a conspiracy theorist, and that’s especially true when it comes to NASCAR. Throughout its history NASCAR seemingly has managed to pull one rabbit after another out of its we-need-a-marketing-shot-in-the-arm hat.
Nothing – absolutely nothing – could have attracted more positive attention to Sunday’s Daytona 500 than Patrick winning the pole. Understandably, the media are drooling over the story much like a lot of guys drool over Patrick. It has always been my theory that Danica’s jumping from Indy Car racing to NASCAR was more about selling the sport than competition.
Starting on the pole actually means very little. If Patrick wins I’ll eat one of those Goodyear tires she’s posed on for publicity pictures. But it will attract eyes to FOX’s telecast that have never before seen a stock car race.
Like I said, NASCAR’s history is full of stories that seem too good to be true. I won’t even get into all of the times when caution flags came out late in races when someone had a big lead. The caution flag, of course, would bunch up the field and assure a dramatic finish. The standard line from NASCAR was “debris on the track”.
Among the more famous stories:
The first Daytona 500 televised nationally flag-to-flag was in 1979. That was the year when a final lap crash in the third turn involved the leaders, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough, and resulted in a fist fight between two (and Allison’s brother Bobby) while Richard Petty, stock car racing’s only nationally recognized star at the time, raced to the finish line. No Daytona 500 ever received so much coverage and it was the beginning of NASCAR going from a regional to a national sport.
The most famous wink-wink NASCAR story came in the 1984 summer Daytona race. King Richard, clearly past his prime and seemingly stuck at 199 victories, won the July 4th race in front of the first sitting U.S. president, Ronald Reagan. It was truly a God Bless America and NASCAR moment.
Then there was the 2001 summer race at Daytona, less than 5 months after Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Dale Junior incredibly raced passed more than a dozens cars on the final laps to claim the victory and become a major sports celebrity. There wasn’t a dry eye in NASCAR Nation.
Could Danica Patrick winning Sunday’s Dayton 500 be added to the list? Nah. Winning the pole is one thing, but winning the 500? Not even NASCAR can be so bold as to think its fans would buy that.
Or would they?
Return to: Lamm at Large Blog