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Woody: Time For Danica To Get In Or Get Out

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 7 2010

Danica Patrick is driving in two series these days and struggling in both. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

I don’t presume to know what Danica Patrick’s racing future holds, but one thing is certain: the present isn’t working out very well.

Patrick is struggling with her full-time duties in the IndyCar Series – her latest effort being a dismal 20th-place finish in a 25-car field Sunday at Watkins Glen – and as her troubles mount, so does the perception that her ongoing NASCAR flirtation is a distraction.

Frankly I don’t see how running a handful of second-tier Nationwide races could adversely affect her duties in a meager 17-race IndyCar schedule. But in racing as in other things, perception often can be as damaging as reality.

Patrick is in the midst of a series-hopping schedule that began with a Nationwide race June 26 at New Hampshire, moved to Watkins Glen for last Sunday’s IndyCar race and now heads to Chicago for Friday’s Nationwide stop.

So far her performance in both worlds has been underwhelming, and brings to mind the not-so-encouraging words of team owner Michael Andretti when asked about Danica’s double-dipping:

“I’m a little concerned. I think it’s tough for her to do. I think to be good in any one of these series any more, you have to be in it 24-7. From that standpoint I think it’s probably not as healthy for her.”

Across the way, several NASCAR team owners have expressed similar sentiments: that it’s impossible nowadays to give a total effort while dabbling in both series. (Ignoring the fact that many top NASCAR drivers run both Cup and Nationwide races, sometimes on different tracks on the same weekend.)

Although Andretti clearly has some concerns, he added that he will leave the driving decisions to Patrick, at least for the time being: “This is what she wants to do,” he said, “so we’re supporting her.”

But how long that support will continue if there are more lackluster runs like last Sunday’s? Patrick is ranked 11th in a league that has perhaps a dozen competitive teams.

In fairness, not all (if any) of the poor Watkins Glen showing can be blamed on Patrick. Her car qualified a miserable 21st and that’s about where it ran all day. Danica has proven with past performances that she’s a much better driver than that.

Patrick set off a firestorm earlier in the season when she criticized her team for giving her a slow car. She quickly back-tracked and apologized, even though she was correct – her cars clearly haven’t been up to speed this season.

Would ending her fling with NASCAR make her IndyCar car go faster? Of course not. But it might send a morale-boosting message to her team that she’s 100 percent committed and devoted to the effort. Again, it’s a matter of perception.

I’ve not changed my opinion of Patrick: she’s a talented racer, a charismatic personality and a PR gold mine the likes of which the sport has never known. But her appeal has never been just her sultry looks – any supermodel can wriggle into a fire suit — but the fact that she’s also a bona fide racer.

Danica needs to regain her competitive edge, in one series or the other.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 7 2010
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Wade Baker says:

    This is the danger that lurks when we anoint people to “superstar” status that haven’t earned it on merit.

    We should not be surprised that the results sometimes work out as they have.

  • Jay says:

    I’m not sure the team can be blamed for the slow cars. For example, during the Watkins Glen broadcast, they mentioned that Patrick preferred a setup which made the car easier to drive. That’s just one example on how she is uncomfortable with aggressive car setups.

    In the end, talented drivers always rise to the top, especially in a spec series like IndyCar. Justin Wilson has consistently earned good results with small teams (imagine him with Andretti, Ganassi or Penske) and even Dan Wheldon (a Ganassi and Andretti reject) is doing better this season. So blame the driver or the hectic schedule, but don’t blame the team.

  • steve-o says:

    Instead of testing testing testing she has gone on vacation and also has been selling her perfume, besides driving her Andretti car. She has no technical knowledge of Nascar Nationwide racecars and even though her Eury led, well sponsored team gives her a fast car she still has no chance of being competitive. She should have just stayed with ARCA because in the Nationwide series she is completely over her head. This observation seems to have been completely lost on her cheerleaders, the broadcasters and other media.

  • Marc says:

    Larry – “it might send a morale-boosting message to her team that she’s 100 percent committed and devoted to the effort.”

    Yeah, it might, on the other hand Amdretti’s team stinks on ice so it really wouldn’t matter would it?

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