Danica Patrick spent Friday morning at Talladega Superspeedway in a happy place, joining some folks in announcing that Aspen Dental will be part of her team in 2014 for two primary sponsorship races and a yearlong associate partnership.
Patrick spent Sunday afternoon in grumpy-pants mode, cursing out crew chief Tony Gibson after he told her she had to pit: "I need more [expletive] help than that."
Gibson: "We've got to do a pass-through penalty here."
Patrick: "Yeah, because I was [expletive] so fast coming in. … We need a [expletive] load more organization when it comes to pitting on speedways."
The truth is Patrick needs a load more work before her racing reputation catches up to the level of the buzz she creates with her marketing prowess.
Patrick remains the most polarizing driver on the NASCAR circuit. She is one of the sport's most marketable drivers despite chugging along every Sunday at the back of the pack.
She finished 33rd Sunday and is stuck at 28th in the Sprint Cup standings. She has one top-10 finish — the historic run at Daytona after she captured the pole position to start the season — and has five dreaded DNFs.
Granted, Patrick is a rookie who has been granted a lenient learning curve with Stewart-Haas Racing, but it's not a bottomless pit of opportunities. Patrick is going to have to make measurable strides next season, not just for her but for the sport.
NASCAR needs Patrick to be relevant. It's a sport lacking star power for its demographics. If you disagree, just wait for the reaction if Jimmie Johnson wins his sixth Cup title. Patrick won't draw in your traditional NASCAR audience — we'll leave that for her buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr. — but she would attract a great deal of secondary fans smitten by the fact a woman can compete with men on a level playing field.
"She needs it more than NASCAR needs it," Earnhardt said last weekend. "She wants to be successful and strives to be successful and that is on her. That comes down to whether she can get it done, and time will tell. I don't think the sport wins or loses either way.
"If she is successful it is a plus. But no matter what happens to any of us, the sport goes on. It's really a sport of so many people and so many different drivers and personalities you move one out and put another one in. I don't think the needle moves a whole lot no matter who we are — me or anybody."
I respectfully disagree with Earnhardt. Maybe he was just being modest, but he moves the needle more than anyone. If his near miss at Talladega last weekend instead had been a victory there would been an explosive "attaboy!" for the sport's most popular driver.
Patrick moves the needle, sometimes simply for being unpopular.
Imagine what would happen if she started winning races instead of simply being a famous pretty face.