Danica Patrick made her return to NASCAR this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to begin her second foray into stock car racing.
Let's hope it's a little more low key than the first time around.
To be fair, I thought the "Danica Mania" blitz that surrounded Patrick's stock car debut back in February wasn't all that bad. She brought added attention to the sport and Daytona's "Speedweeks" and in NASCAR's current struggle for any bit of exposure possible that spotlight was a much-needed kick start to the season.
The television coverage of Patrick's on track race adventures went way too far with isolated shots of the No. 7 car wallowing back in 37th place or so turning off many long-time fans. While it was probably necessary to appease those casual fans who were tuning in just to see Danica take on the NASCAR boys, it's an approach that should not be taken this time around.
When ESPN fires up the cameras to cover Saturday's New England 200 Nationwide Series race of course Patrick will be a story line to set the scene and follow throughout the day. But it has to be a much more balanced approach than what was employed earlier this year.
New Hampshire track officials report ticket sales for Saturday's race are better than a year ago and much of that is credited to having Ms. Patrick in the field. Some accounts have an extra 10,000 planning to be in the stands for Saturday's race at the "Magic Mile." So there is no doubt that she is still a lightning rod and a promoter's dream.
Patrick seems to have a real expectation of what will be considered a good performance come Saturday and I'd say a top twenty finish would be equivalent to her taking the checkered flag. This is all about seat time and a learning curve that Patrick has already found to be quite steep. Although she has experience driving an Indy Car on a flat, one-mile track like the one in Loudon it's going to be a much different animal to harness behind the wheel of a 3,400 lb. stock car.
Try as she might to downplay things this time around there are still media outlets hyping Patrick's return like the second coming. The New Hampshire track didn't do anything to help keep the proceedings to less than a sideshow by presenting her with a $1,000 pair of shoes during her media availability on Friday. What that had to do with anything is anyone's guess.
I'll be watching Saturday's race intently to see if the incredible streak of having 23 different drivers win New Hampshire's 23 Nationwide Series races to date is extended to 24. I hope that's the main story that gets covered but you and I both know it won't be.