By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
March 1, 2013
Other than the PGA with Tiger Woods and the NBA with LeBron James, few athletes have the ability to move the needle for their entire sport. NASCAR might finally have its X-factor in Danica Patrick. In capturing her first pole and first top ten finish at Sunday’s Daytona 500, Patrick was the catalyst for TV ratings increasing 30% over last year’s running, marking the race’s biggest audience in seven years. Patrick’s ascension couldn’t come at a better time for NASCAR, which has battled plunging TV ratings, ticket sales, and sponsor exodus over the last few years.
Patrick always has been an endorsement superstar, earning an estimated $12 million annually off-track through deals with Coke Zero, Nationwide, and Go Daddy. However, her impact on the sport has been limited by a lack of racing success. If Patrick can maintain her hot start to the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season, she could be a driving stimulus package for NASCAR.