10 Tough Questions: Part 1

Part 1 in a five-part series addressing issues facing NASCAR in 2012

Part 1 in a five-part series addressing issues facing NASCAR in 2012

What was the reason for the rash of 2011 postseason crew chief changes on championship-caliber teams?

A perfect storm of circumstances and a desire to stay ahead of the competition at all costs.

Steve Addington had been berated enough, thank you, and saw greener pastures with one of the few more talented drivers in the sport. Darian Grubb’s fate was sealed prior to the Chase and no one — including his shopmates — saw a championship coming. Once on the market, Grubb, along with Nationwide Series mainstay Jason Ratcliff, were Joe Gibbs’ solution to the puzzling dilemmas that are the Nos. 11 and 20 teams. Of course, there were more, but these elite-level talent-swaps illustrate what happens when the competition is so tight. What was once thought of as radical — changing pit bosses on championship-caliber teams in December — is now a necessary step for success.

Why? As NASCAR forces teams into a smaller box in which they can operate from a mechanical perspective, they’re left with few alternatives to gain an edge on the competition. One, though, is dabbling with team chemistry. And with most sponsor contracts tied into the driver’s long-term deal, he’s not going to get the heave-ho — after all, the driver is the face of the corporate entity. Therefore, it’s hard for team owners (or drivers) to not fall in love with the successful head wrench across the way.

Will 2011 stand as a watershed moment in today’s NASCAR? Will true December offseason, headline-grabbing moves become the norm? A definitive and hard-lined “yes,” may be presumptuous, but it seems headed that way. 

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<p> <span>As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</span></p>

Will Danica Patrick’s success or failure in the Nationwide Series determine the long-term future for women in NASCAR? And how will she do, anyways?

Let's get this disclaimer out of the way first: Patrick is a fine driver who has paid her dues over the years and proven she can race and do so competitively in other forms of motorsports. That said, there’s no denying Danica is a marketing phenom. Her camp is a savvy bunch, and those smarts coupled with Patrick’s willingness to “play the game” have enabled her to obtain funding. Her brand brings in the bucks, aligning with a sponsor willing to exchange cash for sex appeal (despite some of it being tongue-in-cheek “comedy”).

That said, her level of success in the Nationwide Series may not have any effect on other women trying to get noticed. Why? Because regardless of their talent, they don’t have what Patrick does: Fame. Fame like most will never know. Patrick topped the list of Yahoo’s most searched athletes on the internet in 2011. Think about that. Think about the Sharapovas, Jeters, Tigers, Serenas and Kobes of the world. Danica bested them all. How does one ride those coattails?

That undying interest in the model/spokesperson/driver transcends NASCAR and, therefore, places her on a plane few in any sport can comprehend. At this point — and despite her success (or lack thereof) in NASCAR — Danica is more of a sports celebrity/marketing trailblazer than a stock car pioneer.

Well-funded and secure, Patrick will find her way in the Nationwide Series this year, post respectable showings (thanks in part to a financially unbalanced field) and move on to the Cup Series in 2013 where the true test lies. And that’s where the rubber meets the road, because no driver, regardless of financial backing, can enjoy a long and successful residence in the Cup Series without results.

There have been many women who have made a run at NASCAR glory and fallen well short — not that Danica will. But no matter what the racing future holds, let’s just not anoint her as some Jackie Robinson type, opening doors in a sport that, fairly or unfairly, has been pegged as a chauvinistic Boys Club over the years.

Visit AthlonSports.com each day throughout the month of February for exclusive preseason coverage of the 2012 NASCAR season.


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