Friday, March 01, 2013

Sports Friday: 3/1/13

NASCAR - If you're tired of hearing about Danica Patrick, I advise you to skip down to the "End of Danica Patrick discussion" label a few paragraphs down.

Pretty much all of the post-Daytona 500 discussion reagrding Danica Patrick's performance - the pole, and an 8th place finish - has been positive, obviously. It's a major milestone in NASCAR history and a victory for women trying to make it in NASCAR! Girl power! Then again, most NASCAR journalists are male. What about the female perspective?

I'm not going to attempt to speak on behalf of women, but here's my interpretation of Patrick's success: "If you're a woman and a talented race car driver, you can succeed in NASCAR...but only if you're attractive and an expert at marketing yourself as such." Because let's face it, she wouldn't be here otherwise. It does bother me how women are often judged based on their apperance first, and everything else second. (That's especially true of women on television.)

Now...I recognize that Danica Patrick is a talented race car driver. In fact, she's at least as talented as a lot of the other "pay drivers" - those who get rides because they have large amounts of sponsor backing, and not because they're the best free agent driver available at the time - that keep popping up in NASCAR. For instance, Danica Patrick's NASCAR career trajectory may end up being very similar to that of, say, Paul Menard.

Menard is the son of the owner of Menards home improvement stores, and as such, Menard has had automatic sponsorship everywhere he's gone throughout his career. He had a decent amount of success moving up through the ranks, but he landed a Sprint Cup ride much sooner than he perhaps deserved to because of the family sponsorship. His first couple of years in Sprint Cup were mostly a struggle, aside from the occasional pole and top ten finish (sound familiar?). But thanks to the family money, not only has he managed to stick around, he actually keeps landing progressively better rides. He now has 220 career Sprint Cup starts, and all that experience - and a ride with one of the top teams, Richard Childress Racing - has allowed him to win a race and develop into a solid top 20 driver.

The same will probably happen with Danica five to six years. But despite her Daytona 500 result, she has a long way to go. Those who follow NASCAR already know this, but restrictor plate racing is far more about the car than the driver. And, we had very little passing at Daytona this year, and lots of follow-the-leader single file lines. Basically, all Patrick had to do to finish where she did on Sunday was stay behind the car in front of her all day long and not do anything stupid. Well, I guess I can give her credit for not messing it up, but my point is, her 8th place finish is hardly a display of "real driving skill" or a sign of things to come. Outside of Daytona and Talladega, she will struggle this season. And next season. And likely the season after that.

Anyway, to put a bow on this: I think there are a lot of talented female race car drivers out there that you may have never heard of, who would have just as much success in NASCAR as Danica Patrick, at least, given the same opportunities that Patrick has had. But why aren't they getting the same opportunities? Is being a "GoDaddy girl" the only way a woman can make it in NASCAR?

--End of Danica Patrick discussion--

One more NASCAR item I want to touch on: the massive crash at the end of the Nationwide race that sent over a dozen spectators to the hospital, some with life-threatening injuries. (They all survived, thankfully.) I have a young daughter, and I would maybe like to take her to a NASCAR race at some point. Does this incident change that?

Nope. Even in light of this incident, the odds of getting hurt in the stands at a NASCAR race are still extremely small. How many people attend NASCAR races every year, and how many of those get hurt by crash debris? Maybe 20 out of two million? I already engage in activities that are far more dangerous than that (i.e. bicycling, driving to work without completely defrosting your windshield first). The threshold for how much danger I'm willing to subject my daughter to is obviously much lower than that for myself, but still, the numbers suggest that attending a NASCAR race is still reasonably safe. That, and I prefer to sit up high anyway - not for safety reasons, but because you get a better view of the entire track that way.

NHL - Here is your "ill-informed Carolina Hurricanes report"! Last time, I said that if the offense could keep up with the lack of defense, that the Hurricanes could make the playoffs. Then, a few players got hurt, Cam Ward had a rough stretch of games, and as of now, the Hurricanes are doing just enough to stay inside a playoff position. They're leading the Southeast Division, but would be 7th in the conference otherwise. And, they're actually closer to last place (six points ahead of Washington) than they are first place (eight points behind Montréal).

As well as Carolina has played offensively, this isn't a deep team, so I think it's most important that the top five forwards (both Staals, Skinner, Semin, and Tlusty - breakout season for Jiri Tlusty, no?) stay healthy. That could be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs.

College basketball - I've mostly transitioned into "When does the tournament start?" mode, but I did have time to watch Penn State win their first Big Ten game of the season against Michigan on Wednesday. Yes! I think I'll let that be my lasting image of Penn State basketball for the season. No need to watch the team again until next year.


Spartangoogle said...

Many thanks to the Nittany Lions for beating the devil school - and I don't mean Duke (at least not this time). Go Spartans!

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