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Sports Business

Tony Kanaan, Danica Patrick feud could wreck IndyCar

June 22, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

There’s no love loss between Andretti Autosport teammates Tony Kanaan and Danica Patrick.

That much has been obvious for much of the last year.

But the brewing disdain bubbled to the surface anew last weekend in Iowa.

In his post-victory comments at Iowa Sunday, Kanaan thanked his “two teammates” Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. He said the two gave him a pep talk the night before the race.

But where was Patrick during the Andretti team kumbaya sing-along? Either not invited, or didn’t bother to show.

What is clear is that Kanaan seemed to go out of his way to thank Hunter-Reay and Andretti while omitting any mention of Patrick. Kanaan is smart enough not to make such a slip unintentionally.

This May, Kanaan said Patrick needed an attitude adjustment, reminding her (quite publicly) that the crew she complained about at Indianapolis this year is the same one that helped her take fifth overall in the IndyCar Series last year.

The relationship between Kanaan and Patrick appears to be hitting a new low.

This is bad news for Patrick, voted by fans as the series’ most popular driver. And it’s also bad news for Patrick’s business associates.

Motorsports marketing experts said getting sideways with a well-liked and respected figure like Kanaan could erode her image.

It’s one thing to stomp around in pit lane once in a while and snarl at Milka Duno, but Kanaan is not someone she wants to cross swords with. First, he’s her teammate, and American sponsors like athletes who at least play well with their own teammates.

Not only is he her teammate, but Kanaan is highly respected in the paddock and also has a sizable fan following, especially in race happy Brazil.

Fans already uneasy about Patrick’s remarks concerning her crew at Indianapolis won’t take kindly to her war with Kanaan.

As an aside, I think Patrick was somewhat justified in her comments in Indianapolis. Her car simply wasn’t up to snuff. Nevertheless, she may want to re-think her public relations and team-building approach.

TK as he is known to his followers is one of those guys who is quick with a smile, but who people in this sport pay attention to when he speaks words of admonishment.

Patrick isn’t the only one at risk here.

Andretti Autosport could be torn apart by such a feud. Neither driver is going anywhere soon. Kanaan signed a five-year deal with the team in 2008 and Patrick signed a three-year deal with Andretti last year.

This is another headache series CEO Randy Bernard could do without as he fights to increase race attendance, TV ratings, sponsorship sales and sanctioning fees.

Maybe it’s best that Patrick is going away to the world of NASCAR right now. Maybe the hostilities will cool with a little separation. Maybe a little time behind the wheel of a fendered car will help her see more clearly.

But Patrick isn’t the only one who needs a sightline—and attitude—adjustment.

If Patrick isn’t the most popular driver in the IndyCar paddock these days, it’s important to remember she’s still the highest profile open-wheel racer, and still one of the best assets this series has.

It’s difficult to say from a distance, who’s right and who’s wrong in a feud such as the one brewing between Andretti’s two stars.

But Kanaan might want to ponder Patrick’s relative value to this series before letting loose with his next salvo. You’d have to wonder if it’s wise to take shots that in some small or big way help take down one of the series’ biggest stars.

In the end, it won’t matter if TK is justified in his stand.

Dead right or dead wrong?
Either way, you’re still dead.

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