In final testing at the weekend before next Saturday's Busch Clash -- er, Sprint Unlimited at Daytona pre-pole-qualifying race -- Patrick was third
fastest in the morning session but not in the top three in the afternoon and yet the headlines on all the stories I've seen said things like, "Patrick quick at Daytona," and "Danica showing early speed."
Get used to it, all you Danica haters out there. All eyes will be on her as she embarks on her first Sprint Cup season in NASCAR. And come Daytona 500 time, the broadcast team will remind you again and again how she's doing, whether she's first or last.
And it's all about marketing, remember. NASCAR knows it has you and all the other auto racing fans out there. They are going after the casual auto racing fan and even the non-auto racing fan and while the name Trevor Bayne doesn't resonate much anywhere, the name Danica Patrick does and that's why everybody involved in the promotion of NASCAR is told to focus on her.
Having said that, the fact that she was third fastest in any session is not bad. She won't win this season, probably, but she'll certainly be competitive.
The "new" Cup cars will be on display in that Unlimited race for the first time, by the way. These are the new generation "Car of Tomorrow" cars that actually look a little bit like the cars you find in GM. Ford and Toyota showrooms.
NASCAR's first era was dominated by Detroit iron and where the slogan "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday," meant something. Then the sport's biggest star, Dale Earnhardt, was killed in a crash at Daytona and NASCAR opted for a generic car that was super safe to avoid further catasrophies. Because the fans couldn't tell the cars apart, the marketing of the drivers kept NASCAR on top but didn't do a lot for the manufacturers.
Now the pendulum is starting to swing back.
Kevin Swindell, son of sprint car champion Sammy Swindell, is a very talented racing driver but he hasn't had the success in other racing series that he's had at the annual Chili Bowl, held indoors each January in Tulsa, Okla.
Swindell has won sprint car races, midget races and stock car races. But he hasn't been able to string anything together.
The Chili Bowl, though, is a different kettle of fish. Saturday night, Kevin won his fourth consecutive Chili Bowl and his dad finished second. Brad Sweet was third.
Like most successful short-track racers, Kevin Swindell is aiming for a career in NASCAR. If he can transfer that obvious talent to the bigger, heavier stockers, he'll have a great career ahead of him.
It's a shame that Kevin Swindell hasn't even thought about Indy cars. And that the generation before him - his father, Steve Kinser, Jac Haudenschild, those guys - was totally ignored. You know, if Jeff Gordon, sprint car driver, hadn't been snubbed by CART and had spent his wonderful career in Indy cars, that series wouldn't be in the mess it is today.
Although the cheerleaders for the series continue to suggest that when the season opens in March in St. Petersburg, Fla., 24-26 cars will be on the grid, the feeling here in the media centre in Detroit is that 22 to 24 is more likely.
I say 20-22. We'll see who's right.
The speed sport is well represented at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year.
Media days Monday and Tuesday precede the public show that opens next Saturday. Attendees will see a Red Bull F1 car at the Infiniti display, Dario Franchitti's Indy 500-winning car at Honda, a Ferrari at - well - Ferrari and on and on.
Don't forget to go to wheels.ca for everything you would ever want to know about the Detroit show - we have 14 people here Tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, etc.