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Monday Morning Crew Chief: Danica Tour Rolls On

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 21 2009
Danica Patrick continues to mull her future.

Danica Patrick continues to mull her future.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
RacingToday.com

The Danica Patrick media tour/contract negotiations are closer to completion and what have we learned?

The most likely option continues to be re-signing with Michael Andretti’s team in the Indy Racing League with brief forays into a NASCAR Nationwide Series car.

For all the interest generated, there’s little substantive change for Patrick if that’s the case, other than the possibility of actually switching to NASCAR in the future if things go well in a stock car.

Should it occur, Tony Stewart launching an IndyCar team with Patrick as his driver in a deal that includes NASCAR races is about the only possibility for any wow factor at this stage.

Along the way on this year’s contract tour, Patrick may have generated more sponsor value for herself and teams by demonstrating her drawing power in the media, which reflects that most racing fans have an opinion, favorable or otherwise, about what she’s doing.

Team owners appear to be a slightly different story. Those who need sponsorship would accept her in a heartbeat. And those who do not need sponsorship are not likely to add her to their squad.

Sprint Cup teams have long since learned that even the most talented drivers take two years to adapt to driving the stock cars, possibly more with the COT chassis. That’s if you have a driver willing to labor in the vineyards without much result for two full seasons of 72 scheduled races. So it’s an uphill battle that must be supported by money – and in this case a team owner’s faith Patrick can handle the arduous process.

Thus far some Nationwide races with a team yet to be named possibly even configured – is the best result for Patrick, although that story has always been dicey and is based on Stewart’s stated opinion that she’ll do something and an off-the-record conversation with Patrick’s father T.J.

It appears that the timing of the final year of Patrick’s current contract may have simply been bad due to an horrendous economy that tanked severely in March.

A bad year for Andretti Green Racing – where Patrick has been the most consistent driver but rarely a race contender – is another factor. This year’s defense of her victory last year at Motegi was disappointing to say the least after she started and finished sixth.

Alas, the suspense continues. But this conclusion is in: there are racing phenomeonon and there are media phenomenon. Until she returns to victory lane – always a possibility at the Indy 500 – Patrick currently falls somewhere in between.

Questions/Answers on Patrick and Indy:  During the Motegi weekend, a group of writers met with Jeff Belskus, recently appointed president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to discuss the future of the Speedway and the IRL. This week’s Q & A is an excerpt taken from that gathering, where questions covered a wide array of subjects.

Question: Do you anticipate that Danica Patrick will continue to participate in the Indy 500?

Belskus: I hope so. We anticipate that whatever team she’s going to  work with comes to the Indy 500. I’m optimistic.

Question: Is she a necessary part of the future or are you comfortable that you can grow other stars?

Belskus: We hope to see her as a part of it. I won’t sit here and say it’s absolutely necessary. On the other hand, we’d prefer to have her a part of it.

Question: One of the options she has is doing a part-time schedule in NASCAR, what are you’re thoughts about that? If you’re optimistic about her coming back is that what we’re looking at?

Belskus: I haven’t been directly involved in whatever conversations she’s been having. I’ve read the newspaper reports of some of the options she’s considering. It’s understandable that she’s considering all the options that are available to her. My hope is that she’s going to continue to be an IndyCar driver first and foremost.

Question: Would you be surprised if she didn’t continue at the Indy 500?

Belskus: I’m not ever completely surprised by decisions that people make. They may not be the decisions I would make. She has said the Indianapolis 500 is very important to her and it’s a lifelong dream for her, winning that event. So based on that, yes I’d be surprised.

Question: Is there a point where the Indy Racing League inserts itself into those conversations to make sure she stays?

Belskus: I don’t envision inserting ourselves into those conversations.

It’s good to have her here as part of the series. She needs to work that out with the teams she’s dealing with.

On The Fly: Ferrari intends to start crashing some of its young drivers – before the Scuderia puts them in a car. A state-of-the-art simulator is under construction that will have a much lighter cage and a much longer piston mechanism for producing roll. Ergo: it will have a wider, faster range of movement resulting in a greater g-forces. Young drivers will have to move through the simulator phase before getting consideration for a drive in a Ferrari chassis.

Before and after the Motegi race, Scott Dixon referred to the fact Helio Castroneves, who is out of the title running, will help his Penske Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe win the IndyCar championship whenever possible. Say it ain’t so… . Dixon is the only one of three drivers in contention who can win the IndyCar title by finishing second at Homestead. If he starts from the pole and leads the most laps, Dixon can win by one point by finishing second to Briscoe. In most scenarios, Dixon must finish ahead of teammate Dario Franchitti to win the title.

The schedule for the new 2.0-liter engines in the IndyCar series is slated for 2012. The IRL reports four manufacturers continue to be interested, but in effect that means Honda and the Volkswagen Group, which includes VW, Audi and Porsche. (That counts out Fiat and its beleagured Chrysler.) Will there be two manufacturers competing? Will it be a V-6 or inline four? That remains to be seen.

Dario Franchitti, who switched from Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar team last year after middling results in NASCAR, was impressed by the fact the Ganassi team started the races at Twin Ring Motegi and New Hampshire International Speedway on the pole on the same weekend. “I wish they had been that good (in NASCAR) last year,” said Franchitti of his brief stock car interlude. …IMS President Jeff Belskus said there are no current plans to host a Grand-Am Rolex Series race at the Speedway. “We would not do it as a stand alone event,” he said. The MotoGP, meanwhile, is not interested in sharing the date, he said. It would be up to the Grand-Am to find another event and bring that package to the table, said Belskus. …Now that it’s back on NASCAR’s schedule, Belskus said he hopes the IRL will return to the Milwaukee Mile after 2010. …This writer was a guest of the Indy Racing League at Motegi.

The word on the ground in Japan regarding the future of Acura’s participation in the ALMS has taken a slightly different turn. Beyond the option many consider likely of dropping out of the ALMS entirely, sources in Japan indicate there’s the possibility of Acura choosing to continue in the LMP2 class. It would require sponsorship or enough budget for a team to lease engines from Honda Performance Development, which has eliminated the Lowe’s Fernandez team from consideration. By this approach, Acura would not risk an embarassing loss of its LMP1 entries to the LMP2 Lola-Mazdas like Audi underwent at the hands of Penske Racing’s Porsche Spyders in 2007. For 2010, the ALMS intends to run all prototypes in one class. …A high-level Toyota racing representative is headed for the Petit Le Mans this week at Road Atlanta according to a reliable source in Japan.

See ya! …At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 21 2009
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • steve-o says:

    Danica certainly is getting very good milage out of her mediocre career however if she were to move to Nascar I’m sure that she would be a very small fish in a very big pond. Nascar competitors are simply too experienced in their specialized form of racing to be concerned about being challenged by this tempermental little girl. 500 laps at Dover against 42 race hardened guys? I don’t think so.

    • mark la ciura says:

      YES I FEEL THE SAME WAY… TEMPERMENTAL DOES NOT MAKE IT IN NASCAR… AND WHEN SHE HITS A WALL GOING 160 MPH AND THEY FIX THE CAR AND ASK HER TO GET BACK OUT THERE FOR POINTS… SHE SAID SHE WANTS SPORTSCENTER TO BE TALKING ABOUT HER AND NASCAR SHE THINKS IS THE BEST WAY TO DO THAT. SHE IS ONLY DOING IT FOR THE MONEY AND NOT FOR THE LOVE OF THE SPORT.