Sturbin: The Danica Dance Goes On
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Armed with a multi-year contract extension from Andretti Autosport, Danica Patrick’s career focus will remain on open-wheel racing while approaching NASCAR as a “curiosity.”
In fact, team-owner Michael Andretti is insisting on it. While supporting Patrick’s desire to challenge herself professionally, Andretti made it clear last week that any NASCAR schedule Patrick undertakes will remain secondary to her job in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“The goal will be we’ll have to work the programs to make sure that the IndyCar is still her main focus, because still the main goal is to win Indianapolis and the championship with Danica,” Andretti said during a teleconference with his star driver. “And I think we have a good shot at it. We want to make sure that it (IndyCar) still is going to be the main focus.”
Andretti, the chairman/president and CEO of the organization formerly known as Andretti Green Racing, has Patrick signed to a two-year contract with a “joint option” for a third year. Simultaneously, Andretti Autosport announced last week that Go Daddy – the world’s largest domain name registrar and Web hosting provider – has signed a multi-year primary sponsorship agreement for Patrick to drive the No. 7 Go Daddy.com Dallara/Honda beginning in 2010.
“To back up what Mike said, that (IndyCar) is the main focus,” said Patrick, who joined AGR in 2007. “I’ve been lucky enough to come close a few times to winning the Indy 500, and that is a serious goal of mine. IndyCar is always going to be the focus, if the other series were to happen.”
Patrick and her business representatives reportedly are working on a deal that would partner her for a limited Nationwide Series schedule with JR Motorsports, the organization co-owned by Sprint Cup championship boss Rick Hendrick and Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr. Coincidentally, JR Motorsports has a sponsorship deal with Go Daddy.com for its No. 88 Chevrolet. Patrick’s foray into stock cars also could include selected ARCA races, perhaps beginning with Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in February.
“As I said, I’ve made no mystery that I’m curious about NASCAR and I would like to do it,” Patrick said. “As a driver, if I had the chance to be able to run in both series and try it and challenge myself, I would like to do that.”
Patrick has consulted with several NASCAR drivers – including former Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart – due diligence that has convinced her she is ready to race with fenders. “We are serious about this, and whether or not things come together or not, we won’t know,” Patrick said. “But there’s no contract and there’s no deal right now. As I said, if I could do both, I’d like to do that. I think we still have time. Even if things go until the last minute, there’s still a little bit of time left.”
Patrick said her discussions with various NASCAR personnel have convinced her that an immediate jump to the Cup Series would be ill-advised. “In all of the talks over the summer, (and) in meeting with people, there was a lot of emphasis on learning, so I’d be very prepared to start small and grow and really learn the cars,” Patrick said. “So if it were to happen, I would be open to all suggestions.
“I’m curious about NASCAR, but ‘curious’ doesn’t mean I wanted to jump in with both feet. And I still love IndyCar racing and where I’m at and the team that I’m with.”
Patrick made history in April 2008, when she became the first woman to win a major open-wheel event at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. She finished a career-best third in the Indy 500 in May, and a career-best fifth in the 2009 points standings.
But with the recent exception of former Formula One regular Juan Pablo Montoya – an Indy 500 and CART champion –open-wheel drivers attempting to switch to NASCAR have fared poorly. The list includes former Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti, the reigning and two-time IndyCar champion, and former Indy 500 and CART champion Jacques Villeneuve, another former F1 World Driving Champion.
Despite going winless during 2009, Patrick feels comfortable exploring her stock car options now. “It’s come up in the past to run NASCAR, and I never really was…my heart wasn’t there,” said Patrick, 27. “I didn’t want to at all. I wasn’t really curious. And trust me, there were financial reasons why it would have been a much better idea. So that (her new contract) takes that out of the equation.
“I’ve always thought that the most important thing for me in my career is that I go with my gut and I go with what I want and not worry about the rest. And so now my curiosity is there and I’d like to just try it, and I’d like to see how I get on with the cars. I just think the racing looks fun. I enjoy IndyCar racing through-and-through, but I mostly enjoy the oval racing. I think that when you have wheel-to-wheel racing all day, it’s challenging. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very stressful, but it’s a lot of fun at the same time, and they (NASCAR) have a lot of that. I think the racing looks fun.”
All but two races on the 36-Cup schedule are contested on ovals.
Patrick said that her new contract with Andretti Autosport includes provisions, and limits, for any NASCAR program.
“Yes, we did work that out,” Patrick said. “As I said, the primary focus is IndyCar and the Indy 500, but in and around that, there’s opportunity to drive the (stock) car, as well. It’s not necessarily an event amount that I’m limited to, but the focus would be to run before and after the IndyCar season. That’s the best opportunity.”
Andretti, who directed Patrick’s race-day strategy for the first time in 2009, admitted he is concerned about Patrick working in a NASCAR environment over which he has no control. “But having said that, I also support her, and if she wants to try it…because first and foremost, she is a race car driver, and I’ve been there,” Andretti said.
A son of former F1 World Champion Mario Andretti, Michael jumped from CART to an ill-fated 13-race F1 season alongside triple World Champion Ayrton Senna at Team McLaren in 1993. “You always want to challenge yourself,” Mikey said. “For her to go and give it (NASCAR) a try, I don’t want to get in her way if she really wants to do that.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments