Just when Motorheads were starting to think that more traditional, old school personalities and rivalries were going to rule the roost in NASCAR in 2013, along came Danica Patrick. The off the track marketing darling of NASCAR, still looking for her first checkered flag, stunned many observers by grabbing the pole spot at this coming week’s Daytona 500, making some history as the first female driver to take the top speed spot in any race, but more importantly serving notice that maybe, just maybe, those millions in marketing dollars invested in her through Indy Car and now NASCAR may bear even more fruit. Gentleman…and a leading lady…start your engines.
So with a week’s worth of hype, what does Patrick’s sudden ascendance mean to NASCAR? Lots. Casual viewers who may have drifted away from the sport will now tune in when the season starts at Daytona this week, which will help lift the marketing and brand awareness not just for Patrick, but for all drivers and their supporters. Even a brand like Miller Coors, the official beer of NASCAR, who has invested millions and enjoyed their ROI, got a nice push this week as Patrick and the Coors Lite Pole position went hand and hand through all the media comings and goings. The Pole position is an added value sponsor position that in most weeks may not get an extra look, but with a week’s worth of hype and Patrick in the spot, will bring lots more value to the partnership between the circuit and its beer brand of choice.
For years many insiders have grumbled over Patrick’s overexposure, but one step forward on the track this week catapulted NASCAR to headlines they would not have seen if Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon had taken the top spot to start Daytona. All that equity, and all those brands that have ridden with Danica, may now get an even bigger payoff is she can finish near where she started. “Danica Patrick is no overnight sensation, she has trained and advanced every year in her career, and sometimes that gets lost in the brand shuffle,” said Chris Lencheski, CEO of Front Row Marketing and a motor racing insider for years. “The value that she has brought to the sport, along with the exposure, has been immeasurable, and when she is even more successful on the track, all of racing will benefit immeasurably. Don’t forget, women are making many of the purchasing decisions, and thousands of young people know who Danica is, so her success on the track doubles her value, to the purchasers and casual fans and to the traditional fans who also want that racing success. It’s a great way to start the season.”
One of the offseason focuses for NASCAR was to continue to build upon the personalities of their drivers and better engage the casual fan. The sport has been innovative in social media and wants to make the push to regain some of the exposure that may have slipped in recent years, and the biggest way to do that is to enhance star power. While it is great to have Kenseth, Stewart, Harvick and Busch rallying for the top spot, Patrick takes things to another level, and that other level, is exactly what NASCAR needs to start their engines for what could be a historic 2013. Unpredictability in results is what television partners and fans crave, and Danica Patrick gave them just that right from the first turn.