Danica driving big numbers for NASCAR

February, 25, 2010

A fan called the Las Vegas Motor Speedway ticket office recently with a single focus: "I want tickets to that Danica race."

Not the Nationwide Series race.

Not the Saturday NASCAR race at LVMS.

The Danica race.

"He didn't ask what time it starts or how much tickets were," said Jeff Motley, the public relations director at LVMS. "He just said, 'that Danica race.' That gives you an indication of the impact she's had here."

The she -- if not obvious -- is Danica Patrick. Although a 30-to-1 longshot to win Saturday's Nationwide race in Sin City, her last before taking a four-month break to focus on the IndyCar Series, she already is a winner in NASCAR.

At least she is in terms of marketing, television ratings and ticket sales.

First marketing. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart hold down the top three spots in trackside merchandise sales, but Patrick ranks among the top five. That, according to those who follow such trends, is unheard of, particularly for a part-time Nationwide driver.

If you ranked Patrick on single-trailer sales -- Earnhardt, Gordon and Stewart have multiple trackside trailers compared to one for Patrick -- she'd be first.

Studies indicate Patrick is resonating fairly equally with males and females, as well as young and old NASCAR fans. Both are good signs for a sport yearning to branch out beyond its traditional borders.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Before Patrick climbed into a stock car, the Davie Brown Index that measures a celebrity's ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent had Patrick tied for third in NASCAR with seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty.

Gordon and Earnhardt held the top two spots.

In terms of consumer likability, Patrick ranked second only to Petty.

Gamblers apparently like Patrick as well, even though she crashed and finished 35th at Daytona and was 31st at California.

"Despite Danica's two first races being a disappointment, money still rolls in on her to win a race," said Richard Gardner of Bodog Sportsbook.

Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Patrick also has exposed NASCAR to markets not normally associated with the sport. She recently appeared on "The Ellen Degeneres Show," "The Bonnie Hunt Show," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and the "Ryan Seacrest Show." She made a guest appearance on "CSI: NY" and is a candidate to be on the cover of Self Magazine.

The sport can't buy that kind of publicity.

Now for ratings. After events at Daytona and California, ESPN2's coverage is averaging a 2.5 rating -- an increase of 19 percent over last year's 2.1 average. Most of that can be attributed to the record 3.2 rating, an increase of 33 percent from 2009, at Daytona.

California ratings actually dropped from 1.9 to 1.7.

Still, not bad overall.

Last but not least: attendance. Daytona president Robin Braig estimated Patrick accounted for at least a 10 percent increase in ticket sales for his race. Attendance at California Speedway grew from a reported 15,000 in 2009 to about 36,000 last weekend.

Motley said the phones have been ringing constantly at LVMS since it was announced Patrick would race there. He added that 13,000 people entered a recent online contest to win $10,010 if Patrick finishes in the top 10.

"That blew away anything else we've ever done," Motley said. "We had entries from all over the country. Pretty remarkable."

And "remarkable" pretty much sums up the impact Patrick has had on NASCAR so far.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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