I'M NOT A fan of Danica Patrick. It has nothing to do with her being a woman. I like women, and I like the idea of a woman getting the opportunity to race.
But I've heard too many interviews like the one she did with a sports-talk station in Minneapolis in which one a radio guy dared ask about NASCAR. Imagine.
Patrick responded by saying she had called to talk about what she did - compete in the Indy Racing League - and not what everybody speculated she would do, which is compete in NASCAR.
One more NASCAR question, she said, and she'd end the interview.
But Patrick is coming to NASCAR, isn't she? She is all but certain to drive part time next season on the Nationwide Series, is she not?
Those dumb radio guys. Just because Patrick visited Tony Stewart in his shop, sat down with Michael Waltrip and talked with Kelley Earnhardt, sister of Dale Earnhardt Jr., doesn't mean interviewers get to ask about NASCAR.
Before the IRL finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway last week, reporters asked Patrick about NASCAR, and she asked why they wanted to ruin the interview. Dumb reporters.
Of course Patrick is coming to NASCAR. NASCAR offers more fans, sponsors, money, endorsement opportunities and attention than she receives now.
And, of course, NASCAR would be thrilled.
"I'm sure she'd add a lot of female interest and sponsors," says Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications. "She's won a race. She led the Indianapolis 500. She's run with the big dogs, so to speak."
Patrick did win a race, and four years ago she led 19 laps at the Indianapolis 500. But she's more than a driver. "Icon" is the most overused word in sports. Patrick, 27, is an icon.
She has appeared in Playboy and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Take that, Junior.
But she's not a candidate for homecoming queen. She loudly complains about other drivers. She confronted one, Dan Wheldon, after a 2007 race in Milwaukee and grabbed his arm and pushed him. Call the act gall, call it guts, but call it something. There are rides at Carowinds that Patrick is too small to ride.
Everybody says she's feisty. But did anybody ever call Jimmy Spencer feisty? She's not feisty. She's tough - at least off the track.
Think about this. Who is the toughest guy in NASCAR after Bruton Smith?
Is it Jimmie Johnson? All he does is beat you. Is it Kyle Busch? When he's not running 33rd, all he does is beat you and derive great joy doing it. Is it young Brad Keselowski? Keselowski has more feuds going than most drivers his age (he's 25) have starts. But it can't be Keselowski. I don't even know what he looks like.
Drivers are too likable. Even mean guys pretend to be nice. One morphs into another. I can't stand certain basketball players, certain baseball teams, the AFC West or the NHL. But there's not a single driver in the Sprint Cup or Nationwide series I would buy a ticket to see lose.
The beauty of Patrick is that thousands of fans will show up to cheer for her and dozens to cheer against her. Many of those fans will be attending their first race. The sport wins.
Patrick won't; not for a long time. Switching from an open-wheel car to a stock car is like switching from a Mini Cooper to a Greyhound bus. In the IRL, Dario Franchitti is known as the 2009 champ. He was so bad in NASCAR last season that he was known as Ashley Judd's husband.
You know how long it has been since a NASCAR newcomer made fans jump and shout? Eleven years. That was whenDale Earnhardt Jr. made his Nationwide debut.
I asked a Lowe's Motor Speedway official if he liked the idea of Patrick coming to NASCAR.
"I'm thrilled," he said. "As long as she makes her debut here."