It looked like a slow start for NASCAR leading into the week’s Daytona 500. The NBA All-Star Fame, pitchers and catchers reporting, the sudden controversy with the Olympics and wrestling, the Oscar Pistorius tragedy, even the NHL’s “Hockey Across America Day,” were grabbing headlines and casual viewers. Next weekend was Daytona, along with the NFL combine and more hoops and hockey, so what to do to break through.
Enter Danica Patrick. By stretching out the coverage of Daytona over a week, NASCAR stuck gold for the casual fan, as Patrick grabbed the pole position for the race next weekend, giving the sport a huge jump in the minds of casual fans who might not remember where Daytona is on the sports calendar. They do know Patrick, who continues to match her driving skills with her marketing prowess, a combo which would be another big win for NASCAR growth, especially amongst young women who love her style but could now identify a little bit more with her as a successful racer. Maybe they won’t follow her to the track, but to a dealership down the line…now that’s another boost the sport and its sponsors could use.
Make no mistake NASCAR is doing just fine. There is still no sport whose fans are more brand loyal and the push to connect the personalities of the drivers to fans even more…especially through social media…will continue to elevate the sport. Another big winner in the Danica pole position could be Miller Coors, who is the circuit’s official beer but doesn’t have huge positioning on cars on race day. However what it does have is sponsorship of the Coors Light pole award for each race. Dropping Danica in at the start of Daytona, with thousands of photos of her this week in the media, could give that partnership an even bigger boost as the hype builds toward race day. Brands love being part of history, and putting Danica on the pole for this week is one of those intangibles that large scale sponsors like Miller Coors can reap an unintended benefit from.
Now of course lots of this goes away if Patrick goes out early in the race next weekend. Regardless for this week at least, It is a monumental next step in the career of a driver who has delivered off the course and looks to now win on it, and for a sport which may have to push just a little bit less to cut through the clutter as its season rockets off in Florida next weekend.