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Even if Danica Patrick never wins Daytona 500 or any NASCAR race, she is great for racing

Danica Patrick has been all over the Internet this week:

Danica shows off her fitness and flexibility by inviting a bunch of NASCAR media to a yoga class.

Danica goes undercover as a Lyft driver.

The Sports Business Daily publishes a study showing Danica’s celebrity compares to Kanye West, Kate Upton and Bono.

Then, of course, there’s the requisite “hottest photos of Danica at the 2016 Daytona 500.”

And oh, by the way, she’ll also be driving in Sunday’s Great American Race and entering her fourth year as a Sprint Cup driver. This little tidbit of information — her actual performance on the track — seems to have become a footnote to Danica’s story. And for obvious reasons.

She’s never won a race.

She’s never finished in the top 5.

Her average race finish last year was 24th.

But who cares if she is a non-entity on the track when off the track she is the best thing to hit NASCAR since beer huggies and Slim Jims.

Here’s all you need to know about Danica: Her main sponsor GoDaddy.com decided to get out of the NASCAR business last year. Any other winless also-ran driver would have been out of luck and off the circuit; Danica had a new primary sponsor — Nature’s Bakery — almost immediately.

Why?

Because Danica sells.

Win or lose.

Obviously, if she were to somehow become a factor on the track and actually started winning races, she would become the biggest superstar in sports. Just look at how huge Ronda Rousey became and she was competing in a niche sport against other women.

If Danica were winning against the big boys, she would elevate NASCAR like Tiger Woods once elevated golf. Tiger took golf to the masses and made it more than just a country-club sport followed mostly by middle-aged white guys. Likewise, Danica would do the same for NASCAR and make it more than just the stereotypical good ol’ boys sport followed mostly by middle-aged white guys.

Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway, tells this story to illustrate my point:

“I was president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the year Danica took the lead at the Indianapolis 500 with 10 laps to go,” Chitwood recalls. “I’ve never seen a crowd on its feet and respond as loudly as that crowd did when Danica took the lead. If she had won the Indy 500, they would have torn down the grandstands.”

If …

If shoes were clues, our presidential candidates would show up barefooted for the next debate.

Of course, Danica didn’t win that Indy 500 just as she likely won’t win the Daytona 500 today or probably ever. There’s no shame in that. Her boss, Tony Stewart — one of the great drivers of his era — has never won the Daytona 500. And it took Dale Earnhardt Sr. — one of the greatest drivers of any era — 20 tries before he finally won one.

But many of NASCAR’s misogynistic meatheads judge Danica more harshly because she’s a woman in a man’s sport. Who will ever forget the iconic Richard Petty’s comments two years ago when he was asked if Patrick would ever win a race in the Sprint Cup Series. His reply: “If everybody else stayed home. … If she'd have been a male, nobody would ever know if she'd showed up at a racetrack.”

There is an obvious double standard when it comes to Danica. She gets ripped and ridiculed because she hasn’t won a race even though she grew up in open-wheel cars and is trying to learn an entirely different style of racing while competing against the best drivers in the world.

Danica’s own boyfriend — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — doesn’t get nearly as much criticism as Danica does even though he came up through the stock-car ranks and is a two-time champion in NASCAR’s Xfinity series. He’s entering his fifth season as a Sprint Cup driver and he’s never won a race either. In fact, last year Danica finished 24th in the points standings — one spot ahead of Stenhouse.

“It's very challenging,” Danica says. “Everybody wants to win … it's very hard to win in Cup, it just is. Everything's got to go your way and be right and be clicking. It's frustrating … but that's what drives you.”

Here’s hoping Danica’s drive results in her becoming a champion someday and elevating NASCAR to unfathomable heights.

But even if she doesn’t — even if she never wins a race — NASCAR is more fun, more interesting and more popular because Danica is great at yoga.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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