Many male fans root for Danica Patrick

Steve Abbatessa, Ted Detillier and Trevor Dudine show off their support for Patrick. Lynn Hoppes/ESPN

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Trevor Dudine is only 16, but he already knows who he is going to marry.

His T-shirt says it all: "My Future Wife" with a photo of Danica Patrick.

"I love her. I think she's hot," said Dudine, who is from Clermont and attended Sunday's Daytona 500 with his parents. "I love NASCAR, having rooted for Tony Stewart before. But when I heard and saw Danica, I've changed my allegiance. I'm in her corner now."

That's what Patrick has brought to NASCAR: more interest, more media attention and more fans.

On Sunday in Daytona Beach, an informal sample found more male fans walking around the track wearing Patrick T-shirts than females.

Kerry Tharp, senior director of communications for competition for NASCAR, isn't surprised.

"She appeals to the male fans because she's a competitor and she's very dynamic," Tharp said. "She already has shown that she can drive. She knows how to market herself. Fans see her as unique and I think that's why you see this influx of fans, particularly men."

Christian Alfonsi, executive vice president of strategic planning for the Taylor Brand Counsel Group, told Forbes.com that Patrick's fan base is growing, far beyond other drivers.

"Ultimately, fans come to the track or watch race action not for sponsors; they come for the drivers," Alfonsi said. "We see Danica’s historic achievement as really driving tremendous interest within the millennial fan base beyond just winning.”

And that is reflected also in merchandise sales.

Patrick is the top-selling NASCAR driver since Sunday on Fanatics.com, one of the largest online retailers of officially licensed sports merchandise. Top sellers this week include a “Pole Winner” shirt and a "Race Time All-Around” T-shirt.

George Gafford of Auburndale was showing his support with a new shirt bought in the past few days.

"I never really was a NASCAR fan, but when I found out that she was the first female driver to win the pole, I decided to support her," Gafford said. "I didn't even realize there were other female drivers competing before. I just decided to go for the underdog. It doesn't matter what sport because I root for people who haven't been here before."

Patrick isn't the first female driver to compete in NASCAR, but she's the one with the best chance of eventually winning on the Sprint Cup circuit. Starting in go-kart racing as a child, Patrick moved to IndyCars and was Rookie of the Year for the Indianapolis 500 and the series in 2005.

She finished third at the 2009 Indianapolis 500, the highest finish by a woman in the race's history. She moved on to NASCAR with the Nationwide Series in 2012 and Sprint Cup this year.

She made news this winter off the track by alerting the world that she was dating fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Shawn Abbatessa of Daytona Beach said he thinks Patrick seems more approachable these days. He wore a T-shirt saying, "Danica's real boyfriend."

"My fiancee thought it was funny and it's all in good fun," Abbatessa said. "I think men are interested in the infatuation of Danica. I'm just joking with my shirt. I think eventually we'll just be focusing on her driving skills."

Teenager Haley Ellerbeck of Nova Scotia isn't surprised more men are interested in Patrick. Ellerbeck was wearing her own Patrick T-shirt and totally understands the interest.

"Besides winning the pole, she's just awesome!" Ellerbeck said. "I'm glad other people are starting to notice."