Danica Patrick is set to depart NASCAR having lost far more than what she brought to it.
And that’s not in terms of performance on the track. It’s also has nothing to do in terms of media attention.
She arrived in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2012 with great fanfare, mobbed in her every move by throngs of fans and media capturing every moment of her move from the IndyCar Series to NASCAR.
When she prepares to begin her final Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway, the crowds aren’t likely to be much different in size.
Sunday is the beginning of the end of her racing career, as she has planned her final two starts to come at Daytona and in the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Even though she is only doing one Cup series race this season, Joyce Julius & Associates – a company that focuses on measuring sponsorship programs and branding efforts – found Patrick received more media mentions during the NASCAR offseason than its reigning series champion, Martin Truex Jr.
So, what is it that Patrick has lost during her NASCAR experience?
The promise of what was possible.
When Patrick first made the move to NASCAR, much of the attention that surrounded her had to do with what she could do to help NASCAR, the new fans that she could bring to the sport, the increased mainstream media exposure that would follow a female driver who found success in what has clearly been a male-dominated sport.
The problem is Patrick’s performance never lived up to the promise, or the hype.
Before she had turned laps in a Cup series car there were stories detailing the tracks where Patrick would most likely win, never considering the possibility she never would find Victory Lane.
In fact, she has never even come close.
In 190 career starts in the Cup series, Patrick has never finished in the top-five. She has seven career top-10 finishes. That’s an average of 1.4 per 36-race season during her five full-time seasons in the series.
She has completed 53,460 laps of competition since her arrival in the Cup series. She has led 64 of them and never more than 11 in a single race.
Her best finish in the series standings was 24th in the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
When Patrick won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and ran competitively for most of the race, the unrealistic expectations that had already been attached her grew even larger.
NASCAR Hall of Fame driver and Fox Sports TV analyst Darrell Waltrip quickly proclaimed her the “face of NASCAR,” ignoring in the process the numerous other drivers who were far more competitive and successful.
Living up to the hype
In all honesty, no matter what Patrick accomplished in her NASCAR career, it could never possibly live up to the hype that surrounded her.
How could it? She had won one race in open-wheel racing, in which she spent her entire motorsports career, and suddenly she was expected to perform better in something in which she had little to no experience.
That’s not the fault of Patrick, of course, but neither did she ever shy away from the attention or dismiss any of it as unwarranted.
In fact, it seems that exposure may have been what was most important.
Even this week at Daytona 500 Media Day, when asked what she would do next year, she replied, “Next year will just hopefully be my brand is built up. I imagine myself traveling, vacations, knocking stuff off of a bucket list of things I want to do, yeah, building the other brands up.”
Whatever the result in Sunday’s Daytona 500, Patrick leaves with her “brand” in good shape.
The promise of a successful NASCAR career, however, will likely forever remain unfulfilled.