It seems to be all the rage to bash Danica (she's so big, we don't use her last name anymore). She finished 36th Saturday in Las Vegas after wrecking halfway through the Nationwide Series race. For some reason, it's big sport for fans of the sport to talk about her while expressing their exasperation.
If you listen to these fans, you would think Danica doesn't have a friend in the world. I halfway expect to hear her next-door neighbor tell us she won't loan a cup of sugar and that her dog -- said to be man's best friend -- is apparently not Danica's best friend and bit her.
But that's not true. Not close.
The way I believe you can best judge popularity is not by polls or TV ratings, but by souvenir sales. When you plunk down your hard-earned money to buy a T-shirt, a jacket or that all-important shot glass, you are making the ultimate statement of popularity.
Sales for Danica Patrick souvenir items rank among the biggest in NASCAR.
And there I stood at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday. Jeff Gordon's souvenir trailer on my left and Danica's on my right. America's free-enterprise system offered the best possible litmus test of popularity.
The lines in front of the four-time NASCAR champion Gordon's souvenir trailer were two people deep. The lines in front of Danica's trailer, making only her third career NASCAR start, were 40 deep.
The American people (or at least the fans at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) have spoken.
In talking with an executive with one of the biggest merchandise companies in the sport, I learned that Danica souvenir sales already rank among the biggest names in the sport -- Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and the other big names. She's already outselling Jimmie Johnson, who has won the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup championships, and Kyle Busch.
The big question is what will sales look like as Danica now turns her attention full-time to the IRL Indy Car Series. The Danica souvenir trailer will still travel to the bigger NASCAR weekends even though she will not be back to the NASCAR tracks until the NFL season starts.
But one thing is for sure. Even though Danica has already left Las Vegas and will not run Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the longest lines will still be at Danica's souvenir trailer.
Somebody likes her.
Legendary racing promoter Eddie Gossage is the current president of Texas Motor Speedway.