Want to be famous? Get into the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and cross Danica Patrick. How many of you actually knew David Gilliland was still racing before Sunday? I figured as much.
Usually the journeyman driver is good for a top ten or two every year, and that’s not that bad considering what Gilliland is working with as a driver for the modestly-funded Front Row team. Aside from that, you would have to be a pretty serious fan to remember his career launching win in the Nationwide Series, or the time Tony Stewart opined that Gilly had come too far, too soon, or perhaps you recall the time Gilliland and Matt Kenseth swapped shots at Bristol. Judging from the comments around the blogosphere, one might get the impression the veteran driver did pick up a few new fans and a lot of notoriety when he instructed Patrick to “Shut up and drive!”
Danica wasn’t at all too pleased with Marcos Ambrose either. Has anyone else taken a long look at the list of drivers the feisty former open wheeler has tangled with? It includes such luminaries as David Reutimann, Trevor Bayne, Morgan Shepherd and now Gilliland. Does anyone see the common thread? These are all decent drivers to be sure, but they’re not usually found up in the rarified air of a Jimmie Johnson or a Matt Kenseth.Furthermore, they’re generally not the “bad boy” type.
No less than FOX commentator Larry McReynolds made a similar observation to that of Gilliland (although more diplomatic). When it comes to matters other than crew chiefs and pit strategy, I struggle to think of an insight I agreed more with when Larry Mac essentially said Patrick has bigger fish to fry trying to stay inside the the top twenty than to futz around with some guy running 23rd. You’ve got to keep your eyes on the prize.
NASCAR ethics can be a slightly sophisticated affair. There is a time and place for a back marker to get his slow keister out of the way for a front runner. You also can’t just let people push you around, especially when it more than appears they’re just trying to be difficult. That all makes sense. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for picking your battles, ESPECIALLY when you know everybody’s listening.
To hear Michel Rahal and a few others tell it who know about Patrick coming up, the mouth and the attitude have been there for her from the beginning. This can’t go over well with the ones who have paid their dues, and the Ice Princess act wears thin for even a casual fan once the novelty fades away.
It can’t be easy to be a woman racing in a man’s world. Don’t you dare misinterpret this as a misogynistic rant. One could easily get swept up in Danicamania if it weren’t for all the whining and the inability to play well with others. Furthermore, there are other ladies in the sport- Johanna Long among them- to root for who are taking a different approach with a mindset this fan finds a little more palatable.
Danica Patrick, though you may not like the messenger, David Gilliland might be on to something. When your complaints are rare, they carry a little more weight. As it stands now, the lip flapping we’re hearing right now has about as much effect as a barking Chihuahua in the court of public opinion.
Put a little more kindly, stick to the driving. Let that do the talking. Keep your powder dry for when you really need it, not when you’re fighting mid-pack with another driver we’ll forget exists within a couple of days. The flashes of racing talent are coming, but they get lost in all the needless drama.
Jim McCoy is a radio and TV sports reporter and award winning play-by-play announcer who resides with his family in the Medford, Oregon area. Among his greatest sporting passions is NASCAR, where passions run deep and the fans are loyal.