Danica's recent NASCAR success raises questions

March 7, 2011
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Danica Patrick’s fourth place finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas on Saturday brings up three big questions.

First, will her most recent success earn Patrick some respect from her critics and fendered-car brethren?

Before the howling begins about Patrick being the beneficiary of fuel strategies and not her racing ability, it’s also fair to say the same good fortune (and then some) benefitted Saturday’s Nationwide race winner Mark Martin.

Open-wheel fans will remember that Patrick was criticized after her only IndyCar victory in Motegi in 2008 because she didn’t need more fuel at the end of her race and many of her competitors did. Well, if that criticism is fair for Patrick, then it should also be leveled at NASCAR veteran Martin, the winningest Nationwide driver ever. He, too, was the benefactor of his competitors’ late-race refueling on Saturday. I won’t even mention Brad Keselowski’s flat tire.

The other two questions are even more intriguing. If Patrick continues her success in the Nationwide series, then later the Sprint Cup series, and at the same time experiences no further progress in IndyCar, is that an indictment of the Andretti Autosport team that has powered her around the open-wheel circuit since 2007?

Yes, Patrick has run up front at times on the IndyCar circuit, but her progress has stalled more recently, and Patrick hasn’t been shy about saying when she thought her equipment and crew weren’t up to snuff, most recently during last season. Maybe, as her critics say, Patrick is a whiner. Or maybe her complaints are justified.

The third big question is actually two questions in one. How much more success does Patrick need before getting shoved up to NASCAR’s top level, the Sprint Cup Series? And will Patrick mean as much to NASCAR as she has to IndyCar?

The answer to the first part: After another three or four top five finishes, her sponsor, GoDaddy, would probably push for the move to Sprint Cup. It likely wouldn’t be this year, but if Patrick can continue her success under the tutelage of the JR Motorsports team, don’t be surprised to see her running some Sprint Cup races next year. She’s already running against some of stock car racing’s biggest stars in the Nationwide series.

There’s been speculation that Patrick will eventually replace the 52-year-old Martin powered by Hendrick Motorsports and sponsored by GoDaddy. Martin’s contract with Hendrick expires in 2011.

Of course, that move would mean the end of her IndyCar career.

Which brings us to Part B of our last question. Can Patrick be the kind of star in NASCAR that she is in IndyCar?

NASCAR has more stars in its constellation than IndyCar, but Patrick should be able to give them a run for their money in terms of media buzz. (Before I start World War III among race fans, I’m talking about star power here, not necessarily driving ability.)

Patrick’s television commercials (especially those with Dale Earnhardt Jr.) are plastered all over broadcast TV. She is easily, like it or not, the most followed driver by the media during Nationwide races.

Her interview skills still need a bit of polish, but she seems to be maturing into her star role. I don’t think Patrick will ever prop up NASCAR the way she does IndyCar, but I think it’s difficult to argue that a Patrick success story on the Sprint Cup circuit wouldn’t give the good ole boys a needed burst of speed.

  • So Long Danica
    I believe NASCAR is paving the way for her to assist them in attempting to rejuvenate their brand after experiencing slides in ratings and attendance that have become apparent the past few years.

    Mark Martin now knows how Dan Wheldon felt in 2005, when a fourth place finish trumps a win.

    As an INDYCAR fan I am going to hate to see her go, but she will do what her handlers tell her, and that probably means adios INDYCARS.

    Randy Bernard and crew have been taking all the right steps to broaden the message beyond 'Danica' and I believe those efforts will pay off when she bolts for bucks.
  • I agree
    It's rare for me to agree with a stodgy paid speedway spokesperson, but I do.

    Frankly, I can't wait for her to leave the ranks of the Indycars. FINALLY it will put the focus on racing and not some soft porn model gimmick that has propped up the IRL since she was exploited by the series in 2005.

    Anthony, I understand this story angle but serious issues remain with the Indycar series that have received NO coverage here or anywhere. What's up? Three weeks from the start of the lame duck 2011 IRL season and not a peep about this or the centennial. They got you on an Indy gag-order too?
    Mark Martin drives the #5 and his contract ends at the end of this season. Kasey Kahne is already scheduled to fill this ride for the 2012 season. Kahne's stop at Red Bull racing is just a temporary. If Danica was to go anywhere for Sprint level, it would be with Stewart-Haas Racing since he has all the HMS equipment but only has 2 teams, his and the #39
  • Danica's best bet
    With so much instability in IndyCar racing, I think it is a given Danica is going to become a full-time stock racer. This year she has a mix of both types of racing. For 2012 I think she needs to contend the Nationwide Series full-time, plus some Truck races, and maybe even some ARCA races to get as much seat time as humanly possible. Then her debut in a Cup car should come at a place like the second race at Pocono in 2012 where she can stretch out and just get a feel for it. Then a full-time effort in 2013. This would be a serious, proper approach and quell the suggestion she is a gimmick. Her run at Las Vegas was no gimmick and I stand corrected for suggesting it. It has a 'gimmick' feel to it all, but she clearly has the skill to do this stock car racing thing.
  • Doesn't Matter
    None of this matters. Cheif and Burl tell me that Indycar won't be around by the time Danica makes the move to Sprint Cup. Therefore, it's not even a choice she will be able to make. Danica is moving over to NASCAR because that will be the only place to go race when "Nostra-chief's" predictions come true.
  • the point
    Danica will move to NASCAR because she has the ability to make it there, not because the ICS goes up in smoke, and yes, if Andretti had given her a better car, better coaching and better support, she'd have won more open-wheel races by now, and maybe even Indianapolis. IndyCar could use a few more people like Tony Eury Jr. That would certainly help the series' Road to Indy.
  • tutoring Danica
    Patrick was coached during the weekend by former NASCAR Truck Series champion Johnny Benson and she also took some tuition from Hendrick Motorsport's leading crew chief Chad Knaus, with whom she spent time during Sprint Cup Series practice. A team doesn't take this kind of care with a driver that they're not seriously considering bringing up to the Sprint Cup Series.
  • Danica
    There's no room for her at Hendrick and just because Stewart has support from Hendrick doesn't really mean anything since Danica drives for JR Motorsports which is half owned by Hendrick.
  • Better car
    That's not gonna do it. They're all the same in IRL.

    Honda wanted Danica at Andretti. That's why her prowess as a driver didn't attract Ganassi or Penske. That's why they unloaded Tony Kanose. That team will be lost this year....she can't setup a car.

    What's up J? How about that Firestone, huh? And Danica wins another 4th place race.
  • IRL?
    Every person who keeps saying "IRL".

    Get over it. There aint no "IRL" any more.

    It's called "IndyCar"

    Repeat...over and over until you stop typing the three IRL letters.
  • But but but
    Seriously, what's the difference what it's called? We like to call it CARTLite or CART3 too. It's just an IPO away....true.
  • Wake up, Danica going sprinting
    Wake up fellas, the fact that GoDaddy wants Danica in the Sprint Cup means everything. When will the gearheads face it, Danica is somewhat above average driver, but as a marketer, few can match her, even in NASCAR. She'll be full-time in the Sprint Cup next year. The plans are already being made. And yes, Andretti is culpable for not getting DP to victory lane more often.
    • 1) For the most part, probably not. The fendered folks do not like outsiders, especially women. Unless they are cooking dinner.

      2) Could be, or could be that NASCAR suits her better.

      3a) Probably before she is ready. NASCAR is desperate for changing their fortunes. They will look favorably on any team that picks her up.

      3b) As much? Probably not. A lot? Yep. NASCAR has tried to lure females with the "young guns" but what better way than a female who has already drawn a lot of females to IRL. And it will not hurt the typical male fan interest either.

      While NASCAR is desperately trying to get Danica in the fold, the IRL still has several good female drivers in the series. Not with the same sex appeal, but now it is time to see a woman succeed more on her driving skills than on her looks.
    • Not that anybody will see it...
      ...but Ana Beatriz and Simona both surely have the ability to win. The cars are not hard to drive, so being outmatched in strength and endurance is not a factor like it once might have been. Don't be surprised if one of these gets a win or at the very least, lands on the podium this season. Sadly, few will see it.
    • Go or Go home
      GoDaddy doesn't want their car on the hauler on Race day, Once Cup makes a rule change to the top 40 we'll see Danica in Cup not before. Nationwide is a far cry from Cup. Example: Bush dominates in Trucks and nationwide and is top 20 in cup. I'd love to see Danica fighting with the go or go home crew each race. Whatever team takes the chance will have to buy a spot for her first 6 races and pray she can maintain a top 35 spot.
    • Fossil Fuel Racing
      & the ICE is so last century. Like horse and buggy days

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