Danica Patrick is easily one of the most popular--and polarizing--athletes in all of sports history, and certainly in the realm of stock car racing. She’s that rare combination of pioneering athlete with celebrity status who has transcended the sport like few before her with an extremely high--and profitable--profile. According to Bankrate, as of this past June, Ms. Patrick's net worth was a tidy $60 million. Danica is also regarded as the most successful woman in the history of open-wheel racing, as her Indy Japan 300 victory in 2008 and her third-place finish in the Indy 500 in 2009 attest to. And more recently of course, when she took the pole in the 2013 Daytona 500.
Ms. Patrick has taken advantage of being in the right sport at the right time. While NASCAR remains outside the influential sphere of the “Big 4” (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL--though some would argue NASCAR rivals the NHL), there is no denying the mainstream appeal NASCAR has gained during its growth in popularity in the last-quarter century. However, because the central competing element in NASCAR is a machine as much as it is a human, auto racing enables women to not only engage in head-to-head competition, but to succeed at the highest levels.
However, despite all of Danica's accolades, there are numerous--at times, seemingly countless--incidents involving the brunette beauty that NASCAR likely wished had never occurred in the first place. Yet, in our view, these polarizing aspects to her personality and career are highly more complex--and frankly, a lot more interesting and certainly worthy of further investigation, as will be revealed as we count down this list of Danica’s mistakes, missteps--and sometimes, misfortune.
As you will discover going through this list, Danica Patrick has been through so much, from physical crashes to emotional confrontations and unfair criticism--and that her career may be closer to ending than the public realizes. So let's appreciate Danica while we've got her, even if there are many, many items that NASCAR wished you didn't know about Ms. Patrick.
15 CONFRONTING BOOING FANS GOES VIRAL
NASCAR likes to project a family-friendly image--despite the fact it’s a sport featuring deadly collisions in which drivers--and spectators--have actually been killed during live events. But for uptight league officials, they definitely don’t want you to know their racers are using “NSFW” (not safe for work) foul language. But that’s precisely what occurred when Danica was booed by fans at Pocono this past June after her security turned them away for autographs.
Instead of humility, Danica unwisely chose a defensive posture, declaring, “My job is not to sign autographs, right? (Booing) hurts my feelings. I’m a f***ing person, you know what I mean?” Uh, not quite, Danica. Ever heard of MLB superstar Mike Trout? It's not his "job" to sign autographs either, but he does so before every game, home or away, for up 15 minutes. As great as Danica Patrick is, she doesn't equate to the once-in-a-generation talent of Trout, so if he can sign autographs without issuing obscenities, so can you, Ms. Patrick.
14 BECOMING “BLUNDER” WOMAN
Nothing’s more embarrassing than an athlete being associated with a powerful superhero--in this case, DC Comics’ iconic Wonder Woman--and then said athlete--in this case, Danica Patrick-- failing miserably to live up to such lofty comparisons, thus cementing the athlete’s image as a mere flesh-and-blood mortal all the more. On the surface, Danica would seem a perfect pairing with the most popular female comic book character ever, when she drove a “Wonder Woman” branded car during the Go Bowling 400 at the Kansas Speedway this past May.
However, Danica did not emulate the infallible Wonder Woman, and instead looked highly vulnerable when she got rammed into by not one, but two opposing cars, first by Joey Logano's Ford, and then by Aric Almirola, with Danica's vehicle eventually going up in flames. Fortunately, everyone was okay but any comparisons between Ms. Patrick and Ms. Prince (Wonder Woman's alter ego) were forever lost.
13 MOCKED BY ONION ARTICLE
Being mocked by The Onion is some sort of publicity--but probably not really very good P.R., because on some level it shows a lack of respect for the subject. But that's just what happened in May 2013 when the satirical newspaper ran a piece entitled, "Danica Patrick Takes Last Place in Preakness Stakes." On the other hand, perhaps the spoof was the ultimate paean to Patrick--because only the famous get satirized in such a manner. Either way one cares to look at it, the ludicrous--yet still hilarious--Photoshopped image depicted Danica behind the wheel of her green Chevy, racing behind a half-dozen horses. The worst indignity? Relegating Ms. Patrick to last place, the implication being that she couldn’t beat a bunch of horses, even in a souped-up stock car that would obviously spook the animals.
12 HER CATHOLIC DIVORCE
Anyone who’s Catholic knows that one of the greatest affronts to that particular Christian denomination is a marriage that ends in divorce. But that didn't stop Danica and ex-husband Paul Hospenthal from splitting in 2013, after she dramatically--and vaguely--declared her marriage to be "irretrievably broken." This, despite Danica's conversion to Hospenthal's religion of Catholicism in 2004, one year prior to her marrying Paul.
Perhaps Danica finally realized that converting for the sake of a marriage doesn’t actually apply to living in the 21st century. Still, from the outside looking in, divorces are always messy no matter what the circumstances, and are perceived as a mark of "failure" by the public at large. Further, divorces can inflict damage upon a racer’s public image and further detracts and distracts from NASCAR’s desired image of family-friendliness. One thing the ultimately doomed coupling did get right was wisely entering into a prenuptial agreement in '05--perhaps they had premonitions of what was to come.
Danica's current beau is Ricky Stenhouse Jr--more on him to follow on this list. But if they get serious, no word if Danica plans to convert to the religion that worships whatever deity Ricky prays to before going to sleep each at night.
11 ROBBY GORDON WEIGHT CHALLENGE
Discussing women’s weight is taboo--perhaps even more so in our “anti-body shaming” p.c. culture that dominates in 2017. But 10 years ago, things were a bit different, and prior to the 2005 Indianapolis 500, racer Robby Gordon publicly rebuked Danica for possessing an unfair advantage over the other drivers--by virtue of her smaller female frame. How would Gordon react if a diminutive horse jockey ever decided to switch from racing a wild animal to a stable machine? Or, just the opposite, would they mind if “big and beautiful" comedian Amy Schumer got behind the wheel? In reality, the impartial Indy Racing League estimated Patrick’s 100-pound weight gave her a 1-mph advantage, an edge any respectable racer could surely overcome.
Besides, if Danica's weight gives her such an advantage, why hasn't she won race after race? Gordon's comments reflected the mutual demons of sexism and jealousy experienced by some male drivers, obviously bugged with all the attention Patrick receives. As for us, we've got no objections over any part of Danica's body.
10 SHOWS NO CLASS OR CONCERN TOWARDS KASEY KAHNE
We wonder; does NASCAR cringe at yet another Danica Patrick crash and conflict with a fellow driver--or, do they secretly relish the publicity? Either way, Danica was at it again in March 2016, following a crash with Kasey Kahne’s car in the 400 Sprint Cup, actually questioning the in-race strategy and composure of fellow racer Kahne. She remarked she felt "really bad" that Kahne, who was a lap down, was in "that desperate a situation to side-draft and hit (her) lead-lap car down the straightaway."
Danica expressed concern her car could have "flipped" and gone "airborne," sounding a bit desperate herself. Frankly, Danica should learn it’s never a good look to play the “blame game” following a collision that could result in tragedy; she should simply be thankful there were no injuries on either side.
9 PUBLICLY CLASHING WITH MARCO ANDRETTI
Back in June 2009, when she still participating in IndyCar and a member of Andretti Green Racing, the fiery Danica and her boss Andretti clashed publicly during a race at famed Texas Motor Speedway. Apparently Marco was upset that Danica only finished sixth, behind his fourth-place finish. Perhaps it was a case of Andretti trying to motivate Danica in his own particular way. The pair were quick to downplay any conflict, with Andretti admitting, "I just said what I was feeling...I was frustrated." Danica confirmed: "Marco and I are fine."
However, both explanations came across as the pair trying too hard to smooth things over artificially, when the issues between them were likely still simmering beneath the surface. This conflict may have contributed to Danica's 2011 departure from Andretti Green as she turned to NASCAR.
8 FAILING TO BE ROLE MODEL
Just as Michael Jordan was criticized for being yet another indulgent athlete and failing to use his worldwide fame to champion the causes of oppressed African-Americans, Ms Patrick is likewise taken to task, apparently for not becoming the 21st century Billie Jean King. as Danica is more apt to ink an endorsement contract than burn her bra in public.
One criticism came from ShapingYouth.org, a website run by Amy Jussel that advocates modifying what would be otherwise interesting and challenging children's entertainment into bland acceptability. In her April 2008 essay, Jussel decried Danica as a "racy kid's role model" and that it "drives me (Jussel) crazy" that Patrick doesn't prioritize her capabilities over her physical beauty. In reality, it's safe to say that Danica strikes a healthy, reasonable balance between being an competitive athlete and sexy celeb.
Ironically, Jussel herself would be considered an attractive woman and she certainly seems to place a premium on personal image with her well-coiffed blonde hair, as shown on her website. The hypocrisy being that in Jussel's world, one is only allowed to go "so far" in expressing their physicality, and any hints of sexuality must be kept under wraps to protect impressionable youth. Jussel's worldview results in future neurotic adults, but for the time being, it's Danica Patrick who had to endure the criticism.
7 PETTY'S PETTINESS
Nothing quite bellows “insecurity” like some established and retired legend in a given sport calling out another competitor for completely meaningless--if not outright biased--reasons. This besides the fact NASCAR would rather not hear their stars bickering like spoiled prep-school children. But that's just what has happened on numerous occasions as racing legend Richard Petty has taken one potshot after another against Danica, for no other reason than she happens to be a different gender. Such was the case yet again in February 2016, when Petty declared "(Patrick) ain't gotten no better or worse." The implication being that she could never win--a theme that is oft-repeated in Petty's indictment of Danica.
Per Wheels, in 2014, Petty said the only way Danica could triumph in a NASCAR event was if every other driver “stayed home.” The logical implication from Petty’s inference is that Ms. Patrick has finished dead last in every race she’s competed in, which is of course, not the case. Perhaps Mr. Petty’s old-fashioned rhetoric should stay home, too.
6 GETTING "LONG IN THE TOOTH"
NASCAR likes to project the image that their drivers are invulnerable racing gods behind the wheel--so they don’t particularly care for associations of age and declining skills occurring to the prominent participants of their sport.
But that’s just what happened this past February when ESPN racing analyst Ricky Craven declared that “Danica is getting long in the tooth,” a comment that also carries a degree of ageism, implying elderly people are distasteful to look upon.
It’s also rather ironic that a retired driver would take such a potshot at an active driver based on age. Maybe Danica has more gas left in the metaphorical tank than Ricky ever did, who certainly lived up to his surname with those especially “craven” comments. But as the enclosed pic indicates, Danica still looks good for a woman at age 35, and if she stays in good shape, will remain so.
5 CRASHED INTO BOYFRIEND RICKY STENHOUSE
This past June 25 at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Danica got a little too close to her aforementioned beau Ricky Stenhouse, after her #10 car banged into his #17 vehicle. As delineated by Bleacher Report, Patrick’s car spun out after being “nudged” on one of the difficult turns, and she collided with Stenhouse. It was reported that racers Kyle Larson and Dale Earnhardt Jr were the ones actually responsible for causing Danica’s car to spin, which she was unable to control--so the blame can be spread around. To her credit, Danica hung in there and finished 17th, while Stenhouse bowed out after 30 laps. This demonstrated Danica can still compartmentalize something as intense as a crash with the man she loves and still finish a race. But does does that speak to Patrick's professionalism--or, a certain calculating coldness within her?'
4 SUED RACING TEAM SUES SPONSOR
This past May it was announced that Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), which happened to be Danica’s NASCAR team, settled a $31 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against sponsor and snack-bar manufacturer Nature's Bakery. A counter-suit had been filed by Nature's Bakery alleging SHR "could not control" Danica from signing endorsement deals with competing products. The relationship between racing teams and their corporate sponsors is an important--and often delicate--dynamic, so the last thing NASCAR wants publicized is that a prominent sponsor (in this case, Nature’s Bakery) is being sued by a prominent racer (Patrick). Because regardless of what actually took place, whenever the general public hears “lawsuit,” they subconsciously if not consciously associate the brand with some sort of negativity. But, true to the oddities of the business world, Nature’s Bakery will remain a sponsor of Danica’s despite the litigious conflict.
3 CONFRONTING OTHER DRIVERS
Danica Patrick's blow-ups against and confrontations with other drivers is so prevalent that it's been catalogued by ESPN, as they did after being inspired by Patrick's dust-up in July 2015, when she clashed with Dale Earnhardt Jr following their NASCAR crash at Kentucky Speedway. "Danica Patrick's Five Biggest Blowups" recounted and detailed Danica's conflicts with racers such as Denny Hamlin earlier in 2015, as captured on video. Also, her 2012 on-track fight with Landon Cassill after a crash where she was later quoted as actually hinting they she would seek retaliation, saying "I've got to work on how to do that (retaliate)", because "my car is out and (Cassill's) not." This is an example of Danica's temper getting the best of her, where momentary revenge fills her eyes larger than long-term safety concerns.
2 CONCUSSION FEARS
Big time sports leagues, be they the NFL or NASCAR, react to controversy the way a vegetarian does to a Big Mac, and the “C” word--concussion--is at the top of the "controversy" list. In racing, concussions are the byproducts of frequent crashes, and as we've seen demonstrated throughout this list, Danica Patrick has gotten into some big-time collisions. Thus, this entry is not only related to those previous that referenced Patrick's preponderance for getting into accidents--intentional or otherwise--but also the fact that perhaps she is closer to retirement than anyone actually realizes. As Danica boldly revealed to ESPN this past February, she estimated she's had at least "twelve" concussions, and said flat out she would retire if a physician advised her she was at risk for long-term damage. Her reasoning is as simple as it is profound--"I love life...I'm too young to have it be over."
1 SUPER BOWL AD THAT DIDN’T AIR
This was everything NASCAR hated, controversy and a missed opportunity to have Patrick appear in another Super Bowl ad, raising her visibility all the more during that incredible Super Bowl XLIX in which the New England Patriots literally snatched victory away from the Seattle Seahawks. Yet Danica’s ad was relegated to sitting on the sidelines. Danica was prevented from a 14th Super Bowl ad (extending her own record) over a controversy in the commercial depicting a dog being sold online, verboten by politically-correct standards that hold canines should only be adopted, not bought and sold like a commodity that leads to breed-happy “puppy mills”
This entry is also ranked number one on this list due to Danica’s decision to insult animal rights activists, displaying all the sensitivity of a female Ted Nugent in responding to the controversy: “I don't think anything in this culture surprises me anymore...when you get into that world of animal rights, tree rights or whatever rights. They all have an opinion." If Danica Patrick actually equates protecting flora and fauna species with “whatever rights,” that’s one childish opinion she should have kept to herself.