Ignore the hype: Danica Patrick isn't coming to NASCAR
Every couple of years, when her contract comes up, the talk of Indycar sensation Danica Patrick ("that girl who drives Indycars" to the non-racing fan) looking to come over to NASCAR from Indycar racing is brought up. Her deal expires at the end of the 2009 season, so the talk has returned.
The major racing media eats it up and hypes it … It’s a match made in heaven to them – the most famous female driver in the world in the most popular racing series in America.
And Patrick stokes the fires, saying things like this:
"I'm very flattered everyone is curious," Patrick was quoted as saying in a New York Times story. "It's interesting to me as well. Do I stay where I am? Do I try to change? It's all about evaluating options, and I think that's something any good business person does. One of the things I think of is the exposure level that you get in NASCAR with the ratings and viewership. Their numbers are so much larger than ours and with that comes a bigger following, comes more popularity, comes more demand for you to endorse other products. So I think it would be an exponential sort of growth."
But there’s one big problem: It’s not going to happen.
While I’m sure NASCAR would welcome Patrick, and all the publicity she would bring, with open arms, it doesn’t really work out to her advantage.
For starters, where would she race? Someone of her status in racing wouldn’t come to NASCAR to drive for some small-time team.
But what’s available?
--The Hendrick cars are so overbooked they don’t even have a slot for Brad Keselowski.
--The Roush team will have to drop a team after this year to achieve the four-team limit.
--I suppose Joe Gibbs could add her as a fourth car, but he’d probably be smarter to sign a NASCAR free agent like Martin Truex or Jamie McMurray.
--Stewart-Haas is emerging as a strong team and has Hendrick support, but I don’t know if Stewart would want to take a chance hiring someone who has never driven stock cars.
And since she’s never driven stock cars, she would have to drive a year in the Nationwide series to hone her skills. Somehow, I don’t think she’d appreciate being sent back to the minor leagues.
But let’s say I’m wrong and she can squeeze in at one of the top teams. Still, it doesn’t work, because she has no reason to switch.
In Indycar, she is the top dog. With Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and others are taking all the victories and championships, Danica steals all the headlines, despite having won only one race in just over four seasons. She probably makes more money from sponsorships than all the other Indycar drivers combined, and that will continue even if she never wins another race in her entire Indycar career because is basically the only star in the entire series.
Let’s say she moved to NASCAR. She would no longer be the face of the sport. She would be one star among many, including the big dog himself Dale Earnhardt Jr.
But still, it has to be tempting. If you read her quote, any move to NASCAR would be made for one reason ... big piles of $$$$$$$$$. But she probably has some smart business advisers who will tell her that if she comes to NASCAR and finishes in the back of the pack every week, that money might not be there in the end.
That brings us to the biggest reason of all it won’t work: She doesn’t race stock cars and it would be a disaster if she tried to do it. For comparison, let’s look at Sam Hornish Jr. He won several Indycar championships before coming to NASCAR, showing much more talent than Danica in the process. Yet he is still struggling for the most part in Cup. He’s had some good runs recently, but his spin per race ratio is probably higher than 1.
If a three-time Indycar champ like Hornish has yet to achieve significant success in NASCAR, how well do you think someone like Patrick, with her one fuel mileage win, will do if she’s racing a car she’s completely foreign to against guys like Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. I’m pretty sure they’d leave her in their dust.
Until a contract is signed somewhere, the media will speak all year of “What’s Danica going to do?” … But it’s pretty clear to me that she’s going to stay in Indycar, doing what she does best, most likely at the same team.