By Bob Pockrass
Johanna Long doesn’t know Danica Patrick, even though their names often are linked together as the two women driving in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
She doesn’t have a rivalry with Patrick and doesn’t gauge her performance on the track against what Patrick does.
When Johnanna Long, left, beat out Danica Patrick at Richmond last month, Long's fans were quick to point it out via social media. (AP Photos)
But she has a growing fan base thanks to Patrick. A fan base that doesn’t really know Long but knows this: They hate Patrick, so they root for Long—the other woman in the Nationwide Series.
Long, who drives for ML Motorsports, can’t escape comparisons to Patrick, and her fans have created their own rivalry between the two. At Richmond April 27, Long finished 20th while Patrick finished 21st.
That fired up Long’s growing fans base.
“Top 20 finish and TOP FEMALE finisher. Take that primadonna,” one fan wrote on Long’s Facebook page.
Another fan wrote: “Is there any way we can get ML Motorsports to put Danica Who??? on the back of the car.”
The two are often compared on Twitter as well.
“If you were Danica Patrick wouldn't you go talk to 19 yr old Johanna Long, make friends, offer advice..NOPE I really hope Johanna does well,” one recent post read.
Patrick, who raced Indy cars for years before moving to NASCAR, is used to such fan quirks. She knows there are fans that pull for her because she is a woman, and fans that don’t for the same reason.
She was unaware of Long’s growing fans base, but not surprised.
“I suppose that’s one of those dynamics that happens,” she said.
Long will take fans any way she can get them, and hopes to keep them with her performance against other NASCAR drivers, not just Patrick.
“People like to root for different people,” said Long, who at 19 is 11 years younger than Patrick. “I really don’t like to compare myself to anyone else. (I’m) just another driver out there in a 43-car field and (I’m) out there worrying about myself and my car and my finish.”
While Patrick made a name for herself in the open-wheel ranks and is in her first year of full-time NASCAR racing, Long has taken a more traditional stock-car route.
Part of a racing family in the Florida panhandle, Long has raced for several years on Florida short tracks. She made a name for herself by winning the 2010 Snowball Derby, where she executed a bump-and-run move on Landon Cassill to win one of the most notable short-track Late Model events in the country.
Fans view her as the anti-Patrick, a career stock-car driver who molded her skills the same way as Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“When I first started racing go-karts, I knew it was going to be about (me being female), but I don’t like to pay attention to that,” she said. “I’m just another driver out there trying to make it and run NASCAR, just trying to run the best I can run.”
But she’s not just another driver as long as Patrick is in the field. There are those who believe that Long gets overshadowed by Patrick and deserves equal attention.
Many of the negative comments about Patrick focus on the widespread media coverage that she attracts:
“Johanna long has better stats than Danica Patrick.. so whyyyy isn't she getting as much if not more attention?” one NASCAR fan asked recently on Twitter.
Driving for Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports, Patrick has an average finish of 20.9 this year, with a best finish of eighth at Texas Motor Speedway. Long, who is running a limited schedule for small, independent ML Motorsports, has an average finish of 24.3 in six races, with a best finish of 19th at Las Vegas.
It’s not like the two female drivers talk about it—they haven’t even had a real conversation yet.
“I haven’t really met her before,” Long said. “I’ve seen her around driver intros and stuff like that and we see each other but we haven’t really spoken.”
“I don’t know her,” Patrick said. “I do know that she is young. I don’t know what she has done before this, but she has done a really good job. … She’s a really young girl and she just needs to keep at it.”
What Patrick should know is that Long isn’t encouraging fans to support her because of any anti-Patrick sentiment. She hopes she attracts those fans naturally.
“I try not to pay attention to it,” Long said. “It’s good to have new fans out there and try to grow my fan base, just like everyone else, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
Read more: http://aol.sportingnews.com/nascar/stor ... z1uOt1hdH9