Are Drivers Like Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana a Good Thing For NASCAR?

Photo Courtesy of NASCAR Media

NASCAR has had its share of drivers come over from other forms of racing.  We’ve seen Tony Stewart come from IndyCar and win 2 championships, we’ve seen Juan Pablo Montoya come from Formula One, and win at NASCAR’s two road courses (Infineon in ’07, and Watkins Glen in ’10).  Today, we are now seeing stars from different types of motorsports making that difficult transition to NASCAR and stock car racing.

Next season, Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana are making a huge step in their racing careers as they commit to NASCAR.  Danica Patrick announced in August that she will infact drive full-time in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, while driving part-time in the Sprint Cup Series.  Travis Pastrana is coming from motocross racing and the X-Games to drive in the NASCAR Nationwide Series on a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing (or Pastrana-Waltrip Racing).

Late last week, I participated in a weekly NASCAR chat on ESPN.com with ESPN The Magazine’s senior writer for NASCAR, Ryan McGee.  I asked him whether or not Patrick and Pastrana’s presence in NASCAR would be a good thing for the sport or not.  This was McGee’s response.

I really do.  It brings in atleast a portion of a different kind of audience.  There is no doubt that NASCAR has lost ground with the younger fan base to extreme sports, especially as the X-Games have become so much more motorized.  Pastrana has a giant cult following.  Can’t hurt to get some of that watching on Saturday’s and Sunday’s.  But he has to perform.  We’ve seen that with Danica.  Just her arrival brought in a huge surge of new fans, particularly girls.  Now shes in the “have to perform” phase or she will lose them.

Ryan really brings up a good point, and I really agree with his statement entirely.  These two drivers alone have brought in a different kind of audience.  Danica has brought on alot more female fans into the sport.

The one demographic that NASCAR needs to get at is the child to adolescent demographic.  As Ryan said, kids and teens are watching the X-Games more than NASCAR because the sport has become more motorized.  With Travis Pastrana coming to NASCAR, he will be bringing his “cult” of younger fans into the sport, and will help NASCAR have more younger people watching the sport.

Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana actually help the sport out on an economical standpoint.   Danica Patrick’s merchandise really sells like hotcakes.  It seems it sells just as much as Dale Earnhardt Jr’s.   However, one thing that will determine their future in NASCAR will be how they perform on the track.  Danica is going to face that difficult task of driving the #7 GoDaddy.com chevy every week at tracks that she has never race at.  Travis Pastrana is just running part-time for 2012, getting some experience in the car.

If Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana can run with with stars of NASCAR, then their fan base will do nothing but grow, and the sport will benefit as a whole (both physically, and economically).  Nuff said.

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