SYRACUSE | Aspen Dental brought in a congressman and a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to help promote an initiative designed to bring dental care to underserved communities.
NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, fresh off a career-best seventh place finish at the 5-Hour Energy 400 in Kansas, and U.S. Rep. Dan Maffei headlined Aspen Dental's Healthy Mouth Movement event Tuesday outside of Syracuse University's Manley Field House.
Aspen Dental, which has an office in Aurelius, launched the Healthy Mouth Movement in January. To help reach communities where dental care is lacking, the company has a MouthMobile, a large vehicle equipped with the tools dentists need to provide care.
The MouthMobile was on site for Tuesday's event. Together with the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans Military Families, Aspen Dental provided free dental care to veterans and their families.
Patrick attended Tuesday's event because she's the spokesperson for the Healthy Mouth Movement. When discussing the selection of Patrick as the initiative's spokesperson, Aspen Dental CEO Bob Fontana said the company was looking for someone who could help raise awareness and promote their effort.
"We knew that no matter how much we could do, we needed someone who really could grab the attention," he said. "When we met Danica, we were pleased that not only did she understand the crisis right away, she wanted to get involved and she felt passionately about it."
Patrick said the Healthy Mouth Movement and the MouthMobile can help provide access to those in need of dental care, including the estimated 100 million Americans who didn't visit the dentist in 2013.
"I'm sure some of those 100 million people do have an (Aspen Dental) near them, but if they don't, the MouthMobile will come to you," Patrick said Tuesday. "And I know that there are so many places across the country, especially the ones in need, that are — and I grew up there — in the middle of nowhere. It's very cool that this is available."
While the main focus of Tuesday's event was the Healthy Mouth Movement, Patrick did take questions on racing. She finished seventh Saturday at Kansas, which was her best finish in the Sprint Cup Series.
Patrick said the Kansas race was "awesome."
"We were able to put a whole weekend together as a team and qualified well, raced well, ran really anywhere from third to 13th, I think, all day long and everything just went smoothly," she said. "The car was awesome. The team did an incredible job of building a brand new, really great car and brought it to Kansas. I'm proud of them for that."
Since making the jump to the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick has struggled at times. But she has showed improvement, especially in the past two weeks. She qualified seventh at Talladega and finished 22nd in the Aaron's 499. At Kansas, she qualified ninth and finished seventh.
Patrick acknowledged the challenges of racing in NASCAR's top series, but the career-best finish has her looking forward to more success in future races.
"It's tough. Sprint Cup is nothing to mess about. It's nothing to think is easy on any level. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, for sure," she said. "When you have weekends like that where you run really well all weekend, you are grateful for them and it just makes you want it more."