The K Word

Posted by Iannucci | 8/12/2006 | 3 comments »
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As someone who watches the newswires for IRL stories, I admit there are many days I have to filter out the word “Danica” just to make it through all the headlines. The media frenzy over her never ends, but I accept this since it mean more publicity for the races. As I said before, coverage of Danica! leads to coverage of the sport, and that’s a good thing.

Since May there has been a growing chorus of writers who for whatever reason feel the need to pile on Mrs. Hospenthal as nothing more than open-wheel racing’s version of Anna Kournikova. You might recall Kournikova as the Russian model/tennis player who retired without ever winning a tournament, and you might even feel the need to make the comparison to Mrs. Hospenthal yourself.

Don’t. It only makes you look like an idiot.

If only because I am growing weary of sorting through this nonsense from “columnists” who wouldn’t know a wicker bill from a wing nut, I’m offering a handy list of reasons to any potential know-it-all as to why this comparison is utterly ridiculous. A recent Google search revealed nearly 30 of these stories, so someone needs to say something about this madness.

1. Auto Racing is Team Sport – Only the naïve observer thinks that racing success is entirely in the hands of the driver. In her race in Michigan the telemetry was toast in Danica!’s car, and a miscalculation left her without enough fuel to finish. Not her fault, but her loss just the same. If Kournikova was out of fuel it was because she didn’t eat enough beforehand.

2. Equipment – No offense to Boulder Sam and Spiderman, but if you had put any driver from the IRL Top 10 – including Danica! – in one of those Penske machines at the beginning of this year then they would have at least one win. Guaranteed. The Penske cars have clearly superior engineering, and having perhaps the best two drivers in the league only increases their dominance. I dare say Kournikova never lost a tournament because she had an inferior racquet.

3. Number of Races – Danica has only started in 26 races in her career, so she’s 0 for 26. Kournikova was 0 for 130 in her pro singles career. If we’re going to be accurate then we need about five to seven more years of sad Danica! to reach the comparison.

4. Age – At age 24, Danica! is the second youngest IndyCar Series regular, older than only 19-year-old Marco Andretti. Not coincidentally, everyone ahead of her in the standings except Andretti 3.0 has more career starts. She’s got a lot of racing ahead of her, while Kournikova retired at 22.

5. Male Competition – What is most striking is how few people mention she is competing against men. Sure, the car doesn’t know if a man or a woman is driving, but if you know anything about Danica!’s background you know her career almost stalled in England because no one took her seriously as a girl driver. As a result, points #1 and #2 came into play before she ever set her lead foot in the IRL. Kournikova lost all 130 matches against women.

Aside: I know there isn’t a Women’s Racing League, but if there was a gender division like there is in Tennis then don’t you think the little brunette would have a few wins by now? Maybe not more than The Fisher Queen, but I mean, come on – this wouldn’t even be a discussion.

6. Teammate Comparison – Danica! and her teammates spent much of the season racing using the clearly inferior Panoz chassis. How are her buddies doing? Former Indy 500 champ Buddy Lazier is in 14th place and Rookie teammate Jeff Simmons is in 16th. Looks like she’s outracing somebody.

7. Passing Stats – Only four races in 2006 have been won by non-Penske cars, so there is no shame in not winning. As I have noted before, it would appear Danica! is doing more with less because her positional advancement against the competition is off the chart.

8. Points Standings – To even bring these up this year is a joke. For every time I’ve read about how far down the standings she is, no one EVER mentions Danica! did not start the race in Homestead in lieu of the death of her teammate, Paul Dana. (throw out everyone’s points for that race and she’s in 8th place) or as I mentioned before she spent half the season driving with the inferior Panoz chassis. Not that 8th is something to get all excited about, but statistics mean nothing outside of context.

Now before you start accusing me of being a flack for Danica!, I will reiterate I too am annoyed by the excessive press coverage. I realize I am contributing to the problem, but unfortunately half the wire stories are written about her. No one is writing about the Invisible Man signing autographs at Meijer (no offense, Bryan) because no one knows who he is.

I also find the Peak Antifreeze commercials laughably bad, and if you have a problem with them, then by all means speak up. Those are obvious transgressions she brings upon herself, and if you really feel the need to say something less than encouraging then have at it.

I will also agree that next season most of the excuses go out the window. Andretti Green will have all the ability in the world to put her in a winning car every week, as previous to this year every full season AGR driver had at least two career wins. She will still be only 25, but if she fails to find her way to Victory Lane then she’ll have some serious ‘splaining to do.

However, those peripheral points should not affect your current view of her as a driver. She isn’t my favorite driver, but she is indeed good (although not great) and she seems better than she was last year. How good she will end up being is anyone’s guess, but her career is still at full strength with potential intact.

Before typing another "K" word understand that tennis players and auto racers are apples and oranges. Making this comparison says more about the writer's simple-minded observations than about the two women. So to all these "columnists", please, stop this insanity and think a little more before you write again.


  1. pressdog // August 12, 2006 9:22 AM  

    Well put. I agree with all your points. I'm no fan of Danica!, but I agree the K comparison is bogus. Danica's drive at Indy this year was better than her drive at Indy last year, where she received the luckiest 4th-place finish in the history of the 500, IMO. She's shown a lot of improvement this year and two P4 finishes for someone in her second year do not suck at all.

  2. Anonymous // August 12, 2006 10:04 AM  

    Hear hear! The K comparison is nothing more than further evidence that most reporters are, quite simply, lazy. The K comparison bandwagon is a very easy one for them to jump on...

  3. Anonymous // August 31, 2006 5:23 PM  

    I dunno, she is not only 0 for 2005-2006, but the Princess is also 0 for her entire career in cars dating back to her time in the UK in 1998.
    (copied from Speed msg board)

    2004-Toyota Atlantics: 3rd in championship, no wins, 3 podiums, 1 pole (Portland)
    2003-Toyota Atlantics: 6th in championship, no wins, 2 podiums
    2002-Barber Doge Pro Series: Only ran 5 races, finished 13th in the championship, highest finish was a 4th
    2001-British Formula Ford: No wins, couldn't find her championship classification
    2000-British and European Formula Ford: No wins, couldn't find her championship classification, finished 2nd at British Formula Ford Festival
    1999-British Formula Vauxhall: No wins, 9th in championship
    1998-Formula Vauxhall Winter Series: No wins, couldn't find championship classification

    I've said it elsewhere - if she can't win as #1 on a team - how is she going to win as #3 at AGR?