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Is there a place for Danica Patrick in the Hall of Fame?

Danica Patrick is interviewed during Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 14, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla.

STEPHEN M. DOWELL, ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS

By BRENDAN MARKS | The Charlotte Observer | Published: May 31, 2018

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Before last weekend’s Indianapolis 500, the final race of Danica Patrick’s heavily-scrutinized career, a friend of mine at ESPN named Bob Pockrass wrote an interesting article about Patrick’s career.

The headline? “The case for and against Danica Patrick getting into the Hall of Fame.”

Bob is one of the most respected journalists in motorsports, and while countless others in the NASCAR and mainstream sports media will surely debate Patrick’s candidacy for years to come, I thought Bob explained both sides of the argument really nicely. Now that Patrick has finished her final race — even if she did crash out of the Indy 500 after qualifying seventh — it seems fair to rehash the subject: Should Danica Patrick really be in the Hall of Fame, or was she just over-hyped?

While there are clearly reasons to vote for Patrick — her status as a female trailblazer in a predominantly male sport, not to mention her celebrity appeal and on-track successes — there are also plenty of reasons not to. Chief among those being … well, she was never actually that good.

I have my opinion, but first, it makes more sense to reiterate both lines of thinking. That way, whether you agree with me or not, there’s at least some logic behind it. (Plus, who doesn’t love a hearty debate?)

First up, the pro-Hall of Fame crowd. A lot of the thought process here is dedicated primarily to Patrick’s off-track accomplishments, namely her status as NASCAR’s only female driver. When Patrick joined NASCAR’s premier series in 2012, there were plenty of skeptics and doubters who wondered how she would stack up.

What she proved over the next seven years was not only could she stack up, but she could do so and build her personal celebrity at the same time. She quickly became one of NASCAR’s most popular and marketable stars, right among the ranks of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. At a time when NASCAR’s fan base was deteriorating and the sport was rapidly losing clout in the American sports scene, Patrick was a driving force in maintaining NASCAR’s status among its fans.

And that’s not to mention that as she accomplished everything she did on the track — a Daytona 500 pole, a Top 10 finish, the most laps led and the most races run of any female driver ever — she also was blossoming into a role model for little girls everywhere. She single-handedly expanded NASCAR’s core fan base, while at the same time engendering a new generation of up-and-coming female drivers.

Now the anti-Hall of Fame crowd. They say, yes, Danica Patrick was a woman driver, but was she any good? Not hardly.

In 191 Cup races, she had just seven Top 10 finishes and that one pole. That’s as many as Brad

Keselowski has this season, and we’re only 13 races in. So no, if you strictly look at Patrick’s career finishes and numbers, she isn’t even sniffing the Hall.

Another argument working against Danica was that even though her generation’s social climate supported her career in a male-dominated field, she was not always interested in being a true role model. Patrick often expressed, even when discussing her own retirement at last season’s championship, that she wanted to be remembered first as a good driver, without the need for the qualifier “female.”

While I understand the arguments on both sides, something I learned from speaking with Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley stands out in helping me side with one faction. Kelley said that he anticipated Patrick would one day be discussed for NASCAR’s Landmark Award, given to someone annually for their outstanding contributions to the sport.

That’s what I think should happen.

On numbers alone, a Danica Patrick Hall of Fame discussion is laughable. But when you take into account the broader effect she had on NASCAR and racing as a whole, in terms of driving fans to the sport and blazing a way for future female drivers, its easy to see how Patrick’s contributions count as “outstanding.”

Now let the debate begin.

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