Today’s big racing news: Bikini model/skin magazine centerfold/race car driver Danica Patrick will run NASCAR “full time” next year, driving a full season in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports along with “selected” Sprint Cup events for Tony Stewart‘s team.

It’s getting a lot of hype.  WDBJ Chanel 7 in Roanoke led its sportscast with the news this morning.

A lot of attention for a driver who’s one just one race in the Indycar series in six seasons.  When she raced her first Indianapolis 500 in 2005, Patrick made the cover of Sports Illustrated.  The race winner did not.

Sports Illustrated loves Danica Patrick. She has appeared  in several of the magazine’s swimsuit editions in — and sometimes partially out of — swimsuits.  She strutted her stuff in FHM, a men’s skin magazine. She appears in sexy television ads for GoDaddy.Com — her sponsor in both Indycar and Nascar.  Those ads encourage viewers to visit the hosting company’s web site to see her with less clothes on.

A few years ago, Patrick told an interviewer that she wanted to be “taken seriously” as a race car drive — an interesting comment from someone who appears willing to show off vast amounts of skin.

Of course, flouting sex appeal pays off.  Forbes.Com reports that Patrick is the third-highest paid female athlete in the world — earning $12 million last year in “prize money, appearance fees and endorsements.”  Very little of that is prize money.

NASCAR, of course, is welcoming their new sexpot driver with open arms. With attendance and TV ratings declining, the sport needs a shot of “star power” and Patrick brings that — even if her performance on the track hasn’t been all that impressive to date.

What’s interesting is that NASCAR — the organization that sacked one of its Sprint Girls recently because she sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend back in her college days — is openly welcoming a female driver who poses for skin mags.

Don’t get us wrong.  We have nothing against sex or nudity.  We love the female form and like to look at pretty girls in skimpy attire too. 😉  We don’t, however, like hypocrisy or the fact that a pretty celebrity can displace a more talented driver who might deserve a shot with a top-notch team.

It’s fitting that Patrick will drive mostly next year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. — co-owner of JR Motorsports with his sister Kelly.  He’s another NASCAR star who is more celebrity than driver.

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