Category archive: Danica Patrick

CONCORD, N.C. -- Danica Patrick was well into her media availability Friday when asked about her name being connected to a clarification in the fan vote that likely will get her into Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race if she doesn't race her way in.

"I don't know in what light they were talking about," she said of media reports.

"The 'Danica Rule,'" a reporter said.

"What rule?" Patrick responded.

"On having or not having to be on the lead lap at the end of the Showdown," the reporter said.

"From my understanding, that was a mistake on NASCAR's part earlier in the week," a somewhat irritated Patrick explained. "So outside of that, I have absolutely no idea what the rules are from the past or what they're going to be or what they have been."

Conspiracy theories have been a part of NASCAR almost from the beginning of the sport. I've never bought into them because if officials were going to conspire, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have a championship or two by now.

He'd have more than one win in the past four-plus seasons, too. There are no conspiracy theories behind getting Patrick into the All-Star Race, either.

I confess, I tweeted something during the week that would allude to a conspiracy theory in this matter, but it was all tongue-in-cheek. I later joked it was the Bobby Labonte Rule.

Unfortunately, it contributed to putting Patrick in an awkward position.

But she was right. NASCAR made a mistake.

From 2007 through 2011, there was no mention of having to finish on the lead lap in the Showdown, the preliminary to the main event. One had only to have a raceable car, which means not wrecked.

The rule was written that way so if a driver who had been dominant had a flat tire or another small issue in the second 20-lap segment, he or she wouldn't be penalized for finishing a lap or two down.

By mistake, it was mistakenly written into the 2012 rules that drivers who won the fan vote had to be on the lead lap to advance.

The mistake was corrected this year to revert back to the way it was. Because it possibly could benefit Patrick, who is expected to garner the most fan votes because of her popularity, the "Danica Rule" terminology was born.

But make no mistake, there is no such rule.

And make no mistake, Patrick wants to drive her way into the All-Star Race to become the first woman to participate in it.

"I feel I am very lucky to have so many great fans, and all my partners and everybody involved are doing a good job of promoting the fan vote," Patrick said. "Hopefully, that is there, but I would rather just focus on racing my way in and, if I needed the fan vote, then I will cross my fingers."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Well, NASCAR, you wanted to reach a broader audience.

So far in 2013, you've done that.

The past few weeks the sport has been all over CNN, MSNBC and even MTV between Danica Patrick setting history at the Daytona 500, the Daytona Nationwide Series crash that left more than 28 injured, little-known Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements being suspended for using a racial slur and the NRA sponsoring a race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Only a few days ago you had CNN host Piers Morgan passionately talking about the sport -- albeit in a not-so-positive way -- in a gun control debate with a Texas politician.

"I'm slightly baffled why you can't have a tobacco company sponsoring this race because, presumably, it's bad for Americans' health -- but you can have the NRA, which is basically funded by gun manufacturers," an outraged Morgan said to Texas State Sen. Dan Patrick.

Speaking of outraged, Denny Hamlin kept the TMZ mood going on Thursday when he lashed out at NASCAR for docking him $25,000 for being critical of the new "Gen-6" car.

It probably won't land on headline news, but it'll draw national attention.

When will it end?

Next thing you know Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be on "The Dr. Oz Show" talking about his detox diet.

In case you missed it, Earnhardt told reporters in Phoenix last weekend that he's down 15 to 20 pounds after a 15-day diet that included prune juice and carrot juice.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Chris Graythen/NASCAR/Getty ImagesA slimmer Dale Earnhardt Jr. is coming to a track near you.

It apparently was prompted by a "shrinking" firesuit last year.

"That's really what it's about for me is just trying to maintain my weight so I don't have to keep getting my driver suits altered throughout the season," Earnhardt explained. "Last year, I was like, 'Man, they're shrinking, something is wrong with the washer.'

"This offseason I lost a lot of weight … just trying to do a better job of managing my calories and stuff like that. I never really worried about it before. Just eat all kinds of stuff like pizza and wings and stuff every day and not really watching portion controls and stuff like that. Just getting out of control so reining all that back in. Not getting too crazy about it though. I'm no health freak by no means."

That is a relief. The sport may not be able to handle its most popular driver being a health freak around all the other issues.

The good news is all these other issues drowned out much of the debate -- much of that negative, too -- over whether the new Gen-6 car has been a success or failure yet at Daytona and Phoenix.

Hopefully, all will settle down and we'll get a better grip on that this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of the mile and a half tracks.

It's time for the talk to return to the drivers and competition, although NASCAR fining Hamlin for what seemed like harmless comments about the new car and single-file racing at Phoenix probably didn't help any.

Particularly since Hamlin is so mad he nearly begged to be suspended.

The bad news? The drivers and competition likely won't connect to a broader audience like everything else has.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The marketing machine at NASCAR has been busier than normal the past 24 hours.

They can thank Danica Patrick for that.

Since Sunday, when the 30-year-old Stewart-Haas Racing driver won the pole for the Daytona 500 -- the first time a woman has earned the top spot in a Sprint Cup race -- there has been a significant spike in interest in the sport.

From ABC's "Good Morning America" to "CBS This Morning" to CNN, Patrick's accomplishment was everywhere Monday. She is scheduled for another round of national shows Tuesday, including ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."

There is increased interest in Las Vegas as well, as Patrick's odds of winning the Daytona 500 dropped from 66-1 to 18-1, according to Bovada online gambling.

And NASCAR is capitalizing on all the attention.

"Just the sheer volume of media requests we've received … it's staggering to see the breadth of requests, from sports, non-sports, national media, smaller media," said Steve Phelps, NASCAR's chief marketing officer. "It's pervasive and that obviously bodes well for pre-promotion of our racing.

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Danica Patrick
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesDanica Patrick became the first woman in NASCAR history to win a Sprint Cup pole Sunday at Daytona.

"The great thing is we're not just in sports conversations. We're in a much broader conversation going to places we normally are not."

You can find it everywhere, even on Twitter where former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb sent Patrick a congratulatory message -- though he had his wires crossed thinking Patrick won the Daytona 500 and not the pole.

"Congrats to the Illinois native Danica Patrick on her win today. The first female to win in a big race with this magnitude. Big win," McNabb tweeted.

But you get the picture. The sport is reaching people it typically doesn't.

This is significant to NASCAR's effort to grow its fan base and reach a younger demographic, the 18- to 34-year-old age group that has declined in recent years.

"It's very important," Phelps said. "We've got something we call an industry action plan we have in place. One of the key things is to grow new segments. You want to be diverse and get younger. She helps in both places."

Patrick is the only female driver in NASCAR's top series.

"We've had some great stories, we've had some incredible interest, but this is something I would say is unique and special as she continues to break ground in NASCAR," Phelps said.

Patrick already was scheduled to be a large part of NASCAR's advertising plan for 2013. Of the five new commercial spots for the Daytona 500, she is in most of them.

"We're not trying to overexpose one driver versus another," Phelps said. "I don't think she'd want us to. She wants to go out and prove she belongs here. [Sunday], she proved she does."

You can't blame NASCAR for capitalizing on Patrick's popularity. The Davie Brown Index, which measures celebrity appeal and awareness for brand managers and marketers, ranked her third in the sport last year behind Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

According to the DBI then, Patrick was known by almost 70 percent of all U.S. consumers, and of those 84 percent liked her to some degree.

According to Fox, overnight ratings for Sunday's qualifying were at 1.9, up 6 percent from a year ago. You have to believe Patrick is a reason.

She has been so big here that Earnhardt, the sport's most popular driver for 10 consecutive years, has seemed like an afterthought.

But NASCAR needs to be careful not to overexpose Patrick. She became the face of the IndyCar Series, which didn't always sit well with the drivers who won races and championships.

Some Cup drivers already are tired of Patrick's relationship with fellow rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stealing headlines.

"We're here to race," Jeff Burton said. "All the media wants to talk about is who is dating who. It's freaking ridiculous. Cover the damn race. We're here to race. We're [not] here to talk about a freaking soap opera.

"It gets old."

Phelps understands that.

"There has to be a balance," he said. "I know she faced some of that in IndyCar. The great thing in our sport is we have so many great stars. … We'll certainly put her out there because she is unique, special and has a huge fan base.

"But we want to make sure we do it appropriately."

After this current tidal wave of attention, that is.

LAS VEGAS -- The line around Booth 23743 inside the center hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center was long.

Really long.

Longer than it was earlier in the day for Sprint Cup drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Kevin Harvick. Longer than it was for any other celebrity I saw signing autographs at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show.

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Danica Patrick
David Newton/ESPN.comRegardless of how she performs on the racetrack, there's no questioning Danica Patrick's popularity.

The line was for a 30-year-old, 5-foot-2 woman who -- if dressed, well, differently -- could have passed for one of the countless show models roaming these massive floors.

The line was for Danica Patrick.

Those who waited didn't seem to mind that she hasn't won a race in the Nationwide or Cup series since leaving IndyCar to pursue a full-time career in NASCAR. They flocked to her like gamblers to a poker table, just wanting her signature and perhaps a picture with her.

Whatever you think of Patrick's driving skill, there is no denying her popularity. Fans like her because she's different, because she is charming.

"You're beautiful, Danica," one fan yelled as Patrick stood behind the booth, barefoot as she gave her feet a break from shoes that tend to wear on most who come to SEMA.

They didn't yell that at Kyle Busch or Clint Bowyer in the Toyota booth not far away.

"Unbelievable," another fan said as he realized Patrick wasn't that much taller than the counter on which she was signing. "It's hard to believe she can steer that car around the track."

Male and female, young and old, they stood in line until Patrick was shuffled to another section of the Chevrolet display for a video interview.

Then she turned on the charm again, going back and forth with the ill-prepared host -- he didn't even realize she'd already moved to NASCAR -- with more patience than she gave Landon Cassill at Kansas.

And how many drivers could refer to being able to fit in a pair of leather pants they wore in high school when told how good they look?

"These are such broad questions," Patrick told the host. "You don't know me at all."

But the questions continued. And Patrick continued to answer in a way that kept her audience glued to her every word.

"Any kids in your future?" the host asked.

Patrick smiled and shook her head no.

"Tell me about your husband," the host asked.

Patrick instead turned her attention to what she had planned the rest of the day, reminding him diplomatically that her marriage isn't something she normally talks about.

"What is the one thing you want everybody to know about Danica Patrick that they don't know?" the host said.

Patrick talked about being a girlie girl, liking to get pedicures and put on makeup.

"Me, too," the host said.

Responded Patrick, "If you say 'Me, too,' that's your issues."

A fan shouted, "You tell him, girl!"

And then Patrick was off to another appearance, another long line of people wanting her autograph and a moment of her time.

Say what you want about her; she's good for the sport.

Danica PatrickJared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesDanica Patrick's goal this weekend is simple -- finish every lap at Bristol.

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- You know your season isn't going well when you start quoting Austin Powers.

That was the case for Danica Patrick on Friday as she prepared for her first Nationwide-Sprint Cup Series doubleheader at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Patrick has spent much of the past week listening to comments and jokes about running over a shoe while leading Saturday's Nationwide race at Montreal.

She said that has evoked jokes about the Austin Powers movie in which the bad guy hit Powers in the head with a shoe.

"Who throws a shoe, honestly?" Powers said in the movie. "You fight like a woman."

Although Patrick's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., says the shoe had nothing do with a track bar failure that turned into a 27th-place finish, it summed up the way this season has gone for the former IndyCar Series driver.

Patrick actually was asked whether she noticed what kind of shoe it was during Friday's media availability.

"It was dark with a light-colored sole," Patrick said with a straight face. "It looked really funny on the video. It looked like it disappeared. That sucked."

This season hasn't been too good for Patrick, either. She is 11th in the Nationwide standings with three finishes of 27th or worse in her past four starts. Criticism has gotten to the point that Tony Stewart, her team owner in the Sprint Cup Series, is on a "lay off her" campaign.

"I can't remember having this much bad luck in forever," Patrick said. "I don't ever remember feeling like I just can't seem to catch a break for so long and in such big ways, sometimes."

Things likely won't get any easier at Bristol as Patrick makes her Cup debut at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile Track." She finished 19th, two laps down, in the spring Nationwide race and 33rd, 50 laps down after a crash, in last year's spring Nationwide race.

Her goal?

"Finishing all the laps is the most important thing to me," Patrick said.

And avoiding more Austin Powers jokes.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Here's what was learned at Tony Stewart's news conference Tuesday to promote the eighth annual Prelude to the Dream charity race on June 6 at Eldora Speedway:

•  Stewart wants to keep Ryan Newman, whose contract is up at Stewart-Haas Racing after this season, in 2013. It all hinges on sponsorship, but if that can be found SHR will have Stewart, Newman and Danica Patrick next season.

This came on the heels of a report that Newman was given permission to look for options if sponsorship isn't found.

"Obviously, we're working on the sponsorship to make sure we have the funding to keep that going," Stewart said of Newman's No. 39 team. "I have every intention of keeping him for next year. I like him as a teammate. He's been somebody from day one that believes in what we're doing.

"He can still win a lot of races. I think he can still win a championship with us. I have every intention of hiring him back for next year."

•  Stewart and Darrell Waltrip called Danica Patrick's 31st-place showing in the Sprint Cup race and 12th-place finish in the Nationwide race one of the best first-time attempts they've seen at Darlington Raceway.

"She showed maturity that a lot of drivers don't show the first time at Darlington," Stewart said. "It's hard to not make a mistake at Darlington. She ran about 600 laps and only had a couple of places where she got herself in trouble. I thought she showed her worth there, and I think she showed her talent level."

•  As successful at Stewart's charity event has been -- this year it benefits the Feed the Children program -- the three-time Cup champion would do anything to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. participate.

"If he called in the next 30 minutes, I'd have him a car in the next 35," Stewart said.

Earnhardt's standing reason for not participating is he doesn't like to compete on dirt. But if Patrick can give it a whirl, you'd think NASCAR's most popular driver could.

"The Prelude has always been an example of showing people why these drivers got to the level they are, because they really do pick it up real quick," Stewart said.

•  Remember when Stewart went on his sarcastic tirade about not wrecking enough cars at Talladega? Well, he really doesn't like wrecking cars, particularly at Eldora.

Apparently, there is a $2,000 crash clause he has to pay to cover the expenses of each car damaged. That could reach more than $50,000 if the entire field crashed.

"You can't expect guys to bring nice race cars like that and not do something," said Stewart, who had to pay $10,000 one year. "I don't usually think about it until after the race. Then I cringe."

•  Drivers scheduled to compete in the Prelude include Stewart, Patrick, Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Steve Kinser, Donny Schatz, Cruz Pedregon, Ron Capps and Tony Kanaan.

In case you aren't aware, Feed the Children is a U.S.-based charity that has helped more than 365,000 families since 2009 through its Americans Feeding Americans Caravan.

CONCORD, N.C. -- There's a certain aura, a rock star quality, around Danica Patrick. You can see it in the way she carries herself around the racetrack, and you can hear it in the way she speaks with great confidence -- even when it's about things she's not confident about, such as her debut at Darlington Raceway.

Sometimes you can even feel it.

Such was the case on Thursday as Patrick was introduced as the first female member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.

Never mind that she hasn't won a race during her short time in NASCAR. Never mind that she's not even a full-time driver in the top series. Fans are drawn to her in much the same way they are to Dale Earnhardt Jr. because she represents something that goes beyond trips to Victory Lane.

Naturally, sponsors such as Coca-Cola are drawn, too.

"With all of our celebrity talent, with all of our athletes, we have a plethora of criteria," said Sharon Byers, Coca-Cola's senior vice president of sports and entertainment. "We don't just sign up for winners. We sign for the personalities on the track, off the track, what they represent as an individual."

Patrick represents what NASCAR needs more of: diversity and sex appeal. She climbed out of a race car on Thursday wearing six-inch stilettos and a tight black outfit with a plunging neckline. Ryan Newman, the other member of the Coca-Cola family here, wore blue jeans and a red shirt.

Newman doesn't do stilettos.

Or tight clothing.

Thank you for both.

Those things help create that aura around Patrick. She generates as much interest over what her 10th race will be -- likely Homestead or another Chase race over Indianapolis -- as Newman does talking about how team owner Tony Stewart got away with not being fined for his sarcastic comments at Talladega.

How long Patrick can get away with being a marketing machine without competing for wins will be the interesting twist. Maybe that won't matter. Earnhardt hasn't won since 2008, he's never won a Cup title, and his fan base remains the largest in the sport.

And bottom line, it's way too early to judge Patrick on what she can do in a stock car. This is only her first full season in NASCAR without IndyCar racing hanging over her head.

It may be two or three years before we truly know whether she can be a top-level driver.

But the good news, as we saw again on Thursday: Everything she represents is solid enough that she has the sponsorship and backing to hang around to find out whether she can succeed, to find out whether she can be a true member of the Cup racing family and not just a member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family.

"I don't know if anyone can put as much pressure on me to do well as I do for myself," Patrick said as she prepared for her second Cup race on Saturday at Darlington Raceway. "I of course want to do well for [sponsors]. I understand they're there because of everything I represent at this point."

But in the end, Patrick wants to represent the sport as a winner, not a media darling.

She wants to earn respect as a driver almost as much as she wants to earn her first Darlington stripe.

Meanwhile, she sure can sell herself and her sponsors. When Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith mentioned that sales were up 30 percent at a track concession stand since Danica's Fit Fuel menu was added a year ago, Patrick was ready with the suggestion that they add Coke Zero to the menu.

"No calories," she said. "All the taste with no guilt. Promise."

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick won't take away many good memories from her first full Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.

She wrecked on the final lap of the 150-mile qualifying race.

She wrecked on Lap 49 of the Nationwide Series race.

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Danica Patrick
Tom Pennington/NASCAR/Getty ImagesDanica Patrick (10) got caught up in a Lap 2 crash in her Daytona 500 debut Monday. She finished 38th.

She wrecked on Lap 2 of the Daytona 500.

None was her fault, mind you. She simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time, particularly Monday night, when she barely got past the first lap around the 2.5-mile track before being collected in a crash ignited by Elliott Sadler turning five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

But it'll still be hard for Patrick to leave Florida with a feeling of accomplishment. Even her winning the Nationwide Series pole seems lost amid the crumpled sheet metal.

Patrick sounded despondent as she sat in her car in the garage for more than the first quarter of Monday's race, which was run under the lights for the first time because of Sunday's rainout. She didn't take down the window net for most of that time as crew members worked on her car.

She sounded as though she wanted to be left alone.

Yes, it was that kind of week. Around all the hoopla of her becoming the third woman to start the Great American Race and anticipation of her first full season in the Nationwide Series, the results were what most will remember.

People won't remember that the wrecks were for the most part unavoidable. They'll just remember she wrecked.

But this isn't the real test for Patrick. She has shown in the past that she can handle Daytona, having finished 10th in the Nationwide race here last season. Her real test will come on the intermediate and short tracks that make up the majority of the schedule.

To her credit, Patrick didn't just ride around after returning to the 500 on Lap 66. At times she was able to hang with the big pack, using the race as a learning experience. Her tone sounded more upbeat as the long night wore on.

The irony is that Patrick found trouble in all three races. Before her IndyCar finale at Las Vegas, a race that wasn't completed due to the death of Dan Wheldon, she finished a series-record 50 consecutive races.

That's more than double the second most by championship driver Scott Dixon with 24. And as bad as her day was in the 500, Patrick finished 38th, and ahead of Johnson (42nd) and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon (40th), who blew an engine on Lap 81.

Baby steps.

Patrick took time during a red-flag stoppage after Juan Pablo Montoya ran into a jet dryer under caution with 40 laps remaining to apologize to her team for not avoiding the first wreck. She also thanked her team for working so hard to get her back on the track.

In the end, she reminded, the No. 1 goal was "getting experience."

Patrick got plenty of that.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It may be time to stop referring to Danica Patrick as a female driver.

Pole-winning driver will suffice.


But you can bet most of the headlines will have the word female or woman somewhere in it after Patrick's pole-winning run for Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway (1 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).

That's understandable, since she's only the second female driver to win a Nationwide pole -- Shawna Robinson at Atlanta in 1994 was the other. And until Patrick or another woman makes winning a pole and races seem like an everyday occurrence, a big deal will be made of it.

But maybe one day what Patrick accomplished on Friday and hopes to accomplish in NASCAR will make people forego prefacing her accomplishments with "female driver" the same way Tiger Woods no longer is called a black golfer.

"I really don't think about it from a girl perspective," Patrick told reporters after her historic run. "I've been taught from a young age to want to be the best driver. My dad's in here [media center], and he can attest to that. We'd go to a go-kart track, and I'd be a half-second quicker, and he was still ticked off and not happy when we were a second quicker.

"It was about being the best driver and not the best girl."

Patrick is a long way from being the best driver, but you get the point. We live in an era when such tags aren't necessary.

"This is good for the sport," Elliott Sadler said. "It's going to bring more people, more attention."

Some may turn to conspiracy theories, noting the COPD spokesperson will start on the pole for the Drive4COPD 300 race.

Seriously, don't.

Patrick earned this one. Does anyone honestly believe Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., just to name a few, would step aside and let her win the top spot?

Yeah, right. Mr. Nationwide Series Kyle Busch is about as likely to walk up and hug Kevin Harvick as he would let a Chevy driver spoil his debut for his own Nationwide Toyota team, all for the sake of a sponsor he has nothing to do with.

I've always argued that if NASCAR were all about conspiracy theories, as some believe, then Earnhardt would have at least one Sprint Cup title and not be mired in a 129-race losing streak.

So give Patrick props. Defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, who qualified second for the Nationwide race, did.

"I think it's got a good shot for No. 1 on 'SportsCenter' today," he said. "That's always good for our sport. We look for these kind of moments. NASCAR keeps talking about star power, and these are the kinds of moments that are going to help our whole sport.

"Not just Danica or our team, but our whole sport. The more eyeballs, it's all better for us."

True, but again it's because Patrick is a woman driver and not just a star driver.

The pole definitely has to ease some of the criticism Patrick took after Stewart-Haas Racing bought her way into the Sprint Cup Series' Daytona 500. It turns out she needed it, but mainly because of somebody else's mistake in Thursday's 150-mile qualifying race.

Face it, folks. Patrick can wheel a stock car, particularly at Daytona. She qualified fourth for this Nationwide race a year ago and finished 14th. She was ninth on the last lap of Thursday's qualifying race before running into misfortune with two turns remaining.

And remember, she has some of the best equipment in the Nationwide garage at JR Motorsports. That and her dramatic improvement in average finish -- 28.0 to 17.4 -- from 2010 to 2011 in NASCAR's second-tier series is why anything less than finishing top six in points will be a disappointment this season.

Speaking of points, one of the first thing Patrick said during her postqualifying interview was, "Do you get any points for a pole?"

"Darn it," she continued when told no. "I'm in the best possible position to get the most amount of points for Saturday."

That shows her desire to win races and titles, not just poles. But remember, when Robinson won her pole, she didn't lead a lap and finished 36th. I'm betting Patrick will fare better.

Not because she's a better female driver than Robinson was.

Because she's a better driver.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- What would be bigger for NASCAR: Danica Patrick or Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the 54th running of the Daytona 500?

The question was posed to Earnhardt as media day came to a close on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

"ME! FOR ME!," said Earnhardt, his voice growing a few octaves higher than normal. "Hell, she don't drive for me in the 500, so it wouldn't make a difference for me if she won or not.

"But if I won it, it would be a big deal for me. As far as what everybody else thinks, everybody is going to have a different opinion on that."

It's an interesting choice to ponder. A win for NASCAR's most popular driver in the biggest race of the year, ending a losing streak that dates back to 2008, would be huge for the sport.

But so would a win for Patrick in a sport in which no woman has come close to Victory Lane in the "Great American Race." Imagine all the casual fans that would draw.

A Patrick win would make national newscasts that don't typically mention NASCAR. It would have immense historical significance, like Tiger Woods winning at Augusta National.

An Earnhardt win wouldn't be nearly as significant.

But Earnhardt wasn't thinking about what's good for the sport when answering the question. He was thinking about what is good for him.

"I'm frustrated we didn't win last year," said Earnhardt, who owns Patrick's Nationwide Series car. "I'm ready to get back to that. I want to win a race pretty bad. Daytona, this is probably the worst odds for me all year because of the way the racing is here.

"This is going to be a fun experience, but I'm looking forward to getting to Phoenix and the rest of the tracks to start getting control of my destiny and to start making things happen and start winning races."

Yes, you are reading correctly. Earnhardt, once the king of restrictor-plate racing, believes he's better off at non-restrictor-plate tracks. That says a lot about what he thinks about the tandem drafting and uncertainty of NASCAR's effort to return to the pack racing that made Daytona and Talladega so unique.

"I am looking forward to going to a track where I am driving the car and I can make a difference," Earnhardt said.

You can debate that, too.

But for now the debate is Danica or Dale Jr. winning at Daytona. Who do you think would be bigger for the sport?