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Pedley: Danica Has Apparently Made The Right Decision

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
Danica Patrick will reportedly to the right thing – remain in IndyCar. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

Danica Patrick will reportedly do the right thing – remain in IndyCar. (Photo courtesy of the Indy Racing League)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Danica Patrick’s recent decision to re-sign with Andretti Green Racing and thus remain a NASCAR spectator instead of a NASCAR participant was a good move. Folks, it was the only move.

Patrick is, quite simply, an open-wheeler. It’s what she was, is and should forever be. If she is to meet her goal of ditching the reputation of being a curiosity item and becoming a respected and successful race-car driver, Patrick simply had to remain in the IndyCar Series.

Though AGR remains silent on the subject, reports trickled out on Friday that Patrick had agreed to a new three-year contract with the IndyCar team owned by Michael Andretti.

If true, the reports would seemingly put an end to the speculation, which was fueled by a recent off-the-cuff remark by Tony Stewart that Patrick was leaning toward a future in stock cars.

During those remarks to reporters, Stewart said that Patrick had made several trips to his Stewart-Haas Racing shops in North Carolina and that his impression was that, well, here she comes NASCAR fans.

This despite the fact that open-wheel driver after open-wheel driver had succeeded in doing little more than than bruising their butts on their forays into stock-car racing.

Here are some thoughts about the entire situation:

* Was she serious about moving to NASCAR?

I think she was seriously considering it, seriously exploring it with her summer-long tour de shops. I assume the tour was not just for publicity as it never really got that much.

I think she would like to make more money and she would certainly get that in the forms of a paycheck from the team which hired her and from endorsements and resulting commercial ventures.

But I also think the tour was designed to squeeze more out of the IndyCar team which would eventually end up hiring her.

The answer here would be yes. I think she would have liked to have heard all the right things on her tour, including an offer too good to refuse.

* Would she have been successful as a driver in NASCAR?

First, off, it was a given that she would sign with a team which would put good equipment under her and surround her with good people in a sport where success is built upon the shoulders of good people.

But after that, well, as always, it depends on how one defines successful. If success is judged to be making the top 35 in owner points and, hence, avoidance of go-or-go-home Fridays, then yes, she would likely have been successful fairly quickly.

But, if your idea of success is contending for victories week in and week out, then no, I don’t think she would be successful for quite some time, if ever.

There is a human litmus test or two we can turn to on this. Their names are Sam Hornish Jr. and Dario Franchitti.

Hornish was the best open-wheel oval driver of his time. He was Rick Mears with sideburns. He won IndyCar championships and he won the Indianapolis 500.

Franchitti had a background similar to that of Patrick. He spent his early years driving formula cars on European road courses. He moved to American open-wheel cars and learned to do well on ovals. Franchitti, too, won an IndyCar championship and the 500.

These days, Hornish, after a couple of full seasons in Cup and parts of three seasons in Nationwide, is still looking for upper-crust success in NASCAR.

Franchitti lost his sponsor after the 2008 NASCAR season but seemed pretty darn glad to move back to the IndyCar Series this year, where he once again is contending for a championship.

Patrick may have be looking at the career of Juan Pablo Montoya as she considered a jump to stock cars. She should not have been.

Quite simply, Montoya was one of the great open-wheel drivers of his era. Not good, not really good, but great.

He is in the Chase this year and could well win it, but It has taken him a couple of years to get to the top. And did NASCAR the right way – slowly and patiently, he wroked his way up through the ranks. He said all the right things, listened, avoided distractions.

And, he is one tough mother: He returned any and all unwelcomeness in the garages with a smirk.

Patrick is a nice driver. She is not all carnival. She can drive and compete in the IndyCar Series and deserves to have a ride. But, there is just the one victory, some poles and some tantrums.

The answer here would be no. Patrick and the Chase would be separated by years if not eternity.

* What factors would further mitigate against success for Patrick?

Start with the schedule. There are 36 points races in Cup. There is the All-Star race. There are two or three weeks in Daytona at the start of the year. There is testing. And, you think her time is not going to be more in demand as a NASCAR driver than it was in IndyCar? Double it, if that’s possible. A Kenyan distance runner would have trouble with fatigue in such an environment.

The there is acceptance. Human beings being human beings, you can bet not all arms would be thrown open to Patrick. Not in the garages and perhaps not on her own team. Especially as frustration mounted and especially if she proved unable to control the temper which at times got the best of her in IndyCar.

Finish with second-guessers. You know, people like me who are going to say it was all a big mistake and that would have started after the first time she plowed into Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then pointed an accusatory finger at him. They have hammered Hornish mercilessly the past couple years, they hammered Dario Franchitti and both of those guys were consistent winners in open-wheel.

*So, Danica to NASCAR?

She should be the best she can be in IndyCar.

And Milka, don’t even think about it.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 26 2009
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Alex says:

    One of the best pieces of analysis on the subject.
    I love Open Wheel racing and want her to succeed
    with Andretti’s team.

    When she hits age 30, has poked around the lower
    levels and has shown some success, she can make
    a rational decision if NASCAR is the next logical
    step.

    Otherwise, this analysis was DEAD ON!

  • Brian McKay says:

    I just discovered your website today, and I love it so far. Thanks for the Petit LeMans wrap-up! This is an excellent editorial opinion on Danica. I’ll be revisiting RacinToday.com often. Keep up the good work.

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