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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Despite denial, it's clear Danica's NASCAR ventures are hampering IRL success

When someone denies something, there’s at least a 50 percent chance it’s at least a little bit true.
So when Danica Patrick said this week that her horrible start to the Indycar season has nothing to do with her dabbling in NASCAR, I didn’t exactly buy it.

For those NASCAR fans who haven’t followed the Indy car season (a number which I’m guessing is very high), the stats aren’t pretty. In the races so far this season, Patrick has finished 15th, 7th, 19th, 16th and 11th. This has led to her floundering in 16th in points after 5 races. To put this in perspective, only 24 cars start most IRL races.

Patrick is supposed to be next great hope for female drivers hoping to break through in NASCAR, and she can barely stay ahead of series laughingstock Milka Duno in the series where she actually has experience.

So what’s the deal?
In my eyes, it’s simple: Whether she admits it or not, Patrick has a lack of focus right now.

The dollar signs drew Patrick to try a bold experiment in 2010. Despite signing a multi-year deal to stay on full-time in the IRL, she would dabble in NASCAR by racing for Jr. Motorsports in the Nationwide series. A few races here, and a few races there, broken up by here IRL race. Presumably, if things went well, she would make the full-time switch in a couple years to NASCAR, where the big money can be made.

There’s one problem. Neither one of her campaigns is going very well.
I’m not going to make a final judgment on her NASCAR efforts yet. It’s far too soon for that, as she’s only run a few races, but the results have been less than stellar. She has shown promise of talent in a stock car, and this summer’s runs will provide more insight into her NASCAR ability, but any assessment would be premature.

But after the way her IRL season has started, it’s clear that something is wrong. She finished 2009 in the 5th position in the points, and ran decent most weeks. This year, she’s gone down the tubes in a hurry, and with the runs she’s had she probably wouldn’t even be mentioned by IRL announcers if her name wasn’t Danica Patrick.

Could it be that NASCAR is in the back of her mind and she is not fully focused? I highly doubt that the Andretti team is suddenly giving her junk cars, as opposed to the ones she ran so well in last year.

I understand that racers and teams have off-years. Just look at how horribly the Richard Childress team and all its drivers ran in 2009, as opposed to the great results in 2010. I suppose it’s possible that’s the situation with Patrick and her struggles in Indycar this year.

But the timing just smells rotten to me. I have a funny feeling that if this year ends with nothing but bad results in both NASCAR and Indycar for Patrick, next year’s plans might change and she will fully commit to one or the other.

I know we all can walk and chew gum at the same time, but the better analogy here would be talking and chewing gum at the same time. Chances are it’s not going to work out too well.

I understand Patrick wants to be able to fall back to Indycars if her NASCAR efforts fail, but I don’t see her truly succeeding in NASCAR unless she gives a full commitment. As her current struggles show, it’s hard to have your cake and eat it, too.

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Blogger Scott C said...

I'm glad you brought this up. I had been wondering the very same thing about Patrick. IMHO, I think she would/could do better in the stock car but that's just my thought fodder.

I'm trying to remember 2008 when Franchitti dabbled in the stock car. He didn't dabble though. He took the year off from IRL, got his NASCAR fix and then decided that it wasn't for him. I do think that route is the same that Danica should take.

In the past, who else has tried to run both series in the same year? Did their IRL season seem to suffer the same? I just can't remember anyone else doing that off the top of my head.

May 16, 2010 at 6:43 AM 
Anonymous mrclause said...

Several months back one of the cross over drivers ( I swear I can't recall who) openly said that her IRL effort was going to suffer with her NASCAR effort because of the very strong differences between the cars, communication, technology, that it had happened to him. Looks like he hit it on the head.

It also needs to be kept in mind that she is not a consistent winner, is not an equal to say a JPM. Look at how he's struggled. Danica is super at marketing herself, but, as a driver maybe not what some want her to be. Micheal Andretti should really think about flat telling her to make a choice between the two and to get serious and focused about one or the other. One win does not make her an A list driver. The mid pack finishes show more than that single win how many years ago? Now she's got the equipment and the team in the IRL which supposedly is her forte and she runs mid pack. To maintain her marketing value she needs to understand she needs to stand out in one area and she doesn't. Well maybe she does in sex appeal, but, that ain't racing. The spotlight may be beginning to dim for her.

May 16, 2010 at 7:01 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In both series she lacks the balls to close on competators. She is not willing and/or able to keep it on the edge. She is destined to be a midpack runner at best.

May 16, 2010 at 8:26 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think her time in NASCAR has as much to do with her IRL struggles as the fact that this is the second full season of unified American open wheel racing. The Champ Car teams/drivers that came over may still not have reached the level that the Penske and Ganassi teams are currently at but they do look like they've caught up to Andretti Autosport or whatever they're called.

A lot of that is due to the fact that 4 of the first 5 races have been on road courses/street circuits. The IRL was mostly oval racing for the longest time while Champ Car was mostly road racing which means that all those Champ Car guys should have an advantage over most of the IRL drivers, including Danica, on the road courses.

But even at the first oval of the year, KC, Danica failed to finish in the top 10. So I think what's happened is that a unified American open wheel series has done nothing but expose Danica and I think that she would have been exposed even if she hadn't decided to do NASCAR on the side.

May 16, 2010 at 5:12 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All good points but there is one thing to consider that no one has mentioned, her team. Do you think they feel a little betrayed by her so they may no be giving a 100% to give her the best car possible ? As someone who works on the inside on the NASCAR side believe me, it happens. It may be all her but other than Hunter-Reay the entire team is not exactly setting the track ablaze. Only way to know how good or bad she is is to get in a Penske or Ganassi car against their other drivers. Only time will answer all of the questions.

May 17, 2010 at 6:19 AM 

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