It's nothing new for Patrick, who has compared the polarizing nature of her popularity to that of Tim Tebow. There were snits in IndyCar with drivers who complained that she dominated the spotlight despite results that paled compared with those of other stars, and a fiery (some might say petulant) side often emerges when she feels wronged, which has caused tangles with rivals and her own team.
There have been no such incidents in NASCAR, and the early reception has been welcoming. Prominent Cup driver Kyle Busch, who also owns a Nationwide Series team, says Patrick has talent and deserves the spot.
"People ask, 'Is she given too much attention for not being successful?' I'd admit, 'Yes she has been, but it's great for our sport,'" Busch says.
Earnhardt Jr. says the interest in Patrick stems from "a dynamic edge to her personality. She's assertive and determined. That's exciting, especially coming from a woman. It's very rare in this sport, so it's very intriguing to people. Everyone -- some more than they want to admit -- wants to see her do well and succeed, because they want to see what the results are, not necessarily for her but what does that do for the sport."
In the Q Score ratings, which measure the consumer appeal of athletes, celebrities and brands, Patrick has the highest ranking of all active drivers. In the Davie-Brown Index, which rates a celebrity's ability to influence consumer behavior, she has ranked third among drivers behind four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt Jr.
Patrick, whose one IndyCar victory made her the first woman to win a major league oval race, will be a long shot to win in the Cup Series after Daytona. At Daytona, though, there has been a history of unlikely champions, including Trevor Bayne, who won last year in his second career Cup race. And in her first full season in the Nationwide Series, as a member of a premier team, she likely will become the junior circuit's highest-finishing woman ever. That would be a boon to her "Beautiful Revolution" brand created by IMG (a global sports, fashion, marketing and media giant that does work for dozens of high-profile athletes, including Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning).
"It's about being different and unique and doing something that's never been done before, but doing it as a girl and looking good while doing it," Patrick said. "And it being a really beautiful thing that it's happening."
While moving to NASCAR will be a major adjustment for Patrick, it won't change her life completely. Unlike most NASCAR drivers, she isn't buying a jet or moving to North Carolina, where her teams are based north of Charlotte. She and Hospenthal will commute from Arizona every weekend, sometimes flying first class but other times taking a chance on an expensive or lengthy flight that their US Airways status will earn them a free upgrade -- or that it won't.
"I know it hits on my street cred if someone sees me in coach," Patrick says, "but I'm just practical like that with money. I just see no point in wasting it. Paul is very smart and has had his own business a very long time, and I've learned from him how to take care of things. We're always trying to think about, 'If (racing) ended today, could we live this lifestyle and not have to work anymore?'"
Stewart, who also lives much of the time outside of Charlotte, knows the value of being able to get away from NASCAR's grind.
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