- Associated Press - Monday, August 29, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Danica Patrick lost her 63rd consecutive IndyCar race Sunday at Sonoma, and if you didn’t already know her record is now 1 for 112, there’s an entire website that obsessively tracks her lack of progress and touts her as “OVER-HYPED And UNDER-DESERVING!”

It’s not a new site, but since announcing last week that she’ll move full-time to NASCAR next season, the haters have been out in full force with scathing commentary and scrutiny that seems downright sexist.

It’s doubtful anyone has ever paid attention to what five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has worn to a press conference, but one publication noted that Patrick wore “orange hooker heels” to last Thursday’s announcement. She’s been referred to by her married name, Mrs. Paul Hospenthal, called “Mrs. Arrogant,” and had her underwhelming IndyCar statistics repeated again and again as fans debate whether she deserves a NASCAR ride.

It’s been mean-spirited, unfair, and worst of all, off the mark.

In auto racing, talent and performance are not the most important job requirements, unlike any other professional sport. It’s money, especially in heavily marketed NASCAR.

Nobody gets a job driving race cars at the top level without sponsorship, and those who successfully find a corporate partner will always get the rides. Every single week, in a series somewhere, there’s a driver on the track only after finding enough sponsorship to buy the seat for that particular race.

Eight months ago, Kevin Conway was on the stage in Las Vegas collecting his reward as the Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year. Nevermind that nobody had ever heard of Conway before he overnight became a driver in NASCAR’s top division, or that his resume probably wouldn’t have warranted a tryout.

Conway, it turned out, is a skilled marketer and put together a sponsorship package that landed him on the same race track as some of the best drivers in the world. He didn’t win a race, didn’t notch a single top-20 finish, and in 28 starts, he finished higher than 30th only four times.

Yet there he was, rookie of the year, and as such, eligible to run the All-Star Race this past May.

There was some snickering, but nothing close to the venom that’s routinely spewed at Patrick.

Patrick and her marketing team have mastered the auto racing business model, creating a lucrative and long-term relationship with GoDaddy.com. Now, GoDaddy.com chairman Bob Parsons is willing to move that money to NASCAR, where she’ll race a full-time Nationwide schedule with JR Motorsports, plus eight-to-10 Cup races with Stewart-Haas Racing.

We’re supposed to believe teams shouldn’t cash the checks because Patrick’s statistics don’t stack up?

Or do they?

Through 20 career Nationwide races with JRM, Patrick has three top-10 finishes, a career-best finish of fourth at Las Vegas and led 13 laps at Daytona.

Her top-10s have come this season, in seven starts, giving her an average of 43 percent. Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne has nine top-10 finishes in 20 Nationwide starts _ an average of 45 percent.

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