I love the Indy 500. I know NASCAR has become the more popular auto sport in the United States by a country mile, but I still love the Indy 500. Even during the pathetic, soul-sucking late 1990’s when the newly formed Indy Racing League ruined everything, I still watched the Indy 500. Last week, I was glued to my television, watching a record number of lead changes and a thrilling finish involving a crash. Just as I had been glued to the television a year prior when J.R. Hildebrand blew it all on corner #800 of the race.
Okay, I only made up one of those quotes but the “kid gloves” treatment was bizarre and stood out dramatically. When Joey Logano made his debut a couple years ago, I can guarantee Darell Waltrip would not have praised him for finishing 35th. We have reached the point where NASCAR is so beholden to Danica – thinking that she can boost sagging ratings and dwindling interest – that she is now be coddled beyond comprehension.
NASCAR, unlike Indy, does not need superstars. They have a full stable of household names – Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and the list goes on. Danica cannot dominate NASCAR like she did in Indy by merely existing. At some point, she needs to become a contender. At some point, she needs to finish on the lead lap. At some point, she needs to be good.
Though this may sound like an attack on Danica, I have no ill will toward her and would love to see her succeed. But we’ve seen in sports that fans can get very agitated when the amount of hype and coverage – hi Tim Tebow – doesn’t match up with that athlete’s ability. Danica has entered that dangerous territory and that’s why more than 50% of the social media mentions about her are negative. It’s not Danica that upsets people. It’s the Danica brand. It’s Danica-mania. It’s ESPN.