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And Another Thing

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NASCAR's hardy perennial

Now I know Daytona and the NASCAR Sprint Cup season is right around the corner. A Petty is bashing Danica Patrick again.

This time it's the King himself, saying the only way Patrick will ever win a Cup race is if nobody else shows up. And that the only reason she's there is because she's a woman who's made herself into a killer marketing dynamo who makes lots of money for her team (Stewart-Haas Racing) and brings lots of exposure to the sport.

And so on, and so on. Blah, blah, blah.

OK, last time, people: Of course Patrick's got a primo ride because she brings major sponsorship coin to the table. When has that not been true in motorsports?

There's a reason Al Unser Sr., a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, was walking around Gasoline Alley with his helmet bag in his hand in May 1987, while the likes of Jeff MacPherson, Ludwig Heimrath and Ed Pimm had rides. Sponsorship is the lifeblood of racing, always has been and always will be. Unser didn't have it that May, and some of his lessers did.

And so he strolled while they rolled.

Which, of course, didn't stop Roger Penske from sticking Al Sr. in a ride at the last minute, after which the man went on to win his fourth Indy.

Anyway ... Patrick's ability to move the needle is therefore both her biggest blessing and her biggest curse. If it's opened all manner of doors for her, it's also given the impression she's only a pretty face NASCAR is using as an ATM, just as IndyCar did before it. And therefore she surely has no talent whatsoever other than to sell whatever it is GoDaddy.com is.

Yet the jury's still out on Patrick, no matter what Richard Petty says. You don't finish in the top 10 at Indianapolis six times in seven years if you don't know a little something about wheeling a race car. And if she's found the adjustment to stock cars daunting thus far, so have any number of others -- including her childhood rival Sam Hornish Jr., who continues to be a face in the NASCAR crowd years after making the leap.

And yet no one ever suggests Hornish, or any of the other perennial back markers, can't race. Only Patrick gets singled out for that, because NASCAR has singled her out as a marketing tool.

And that's unfair.

In the meantime ... the Pettys of the world and everyone else needs to shut up and let her learn.

Patrick may never be the next Jimmie Johnson, or even the next Martin Truex Jr. But neither are lots of people. The skinny is, if an eye as discerning as Tony Stewart's sees something there, there must something there.

So let it play out. And if it's never going to be enough to justify all the attention she gets ... well, it can't possibly be. It just can't.

And that's the unfairest thing of all.

Ben Smith's blog.

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