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Is There IndyCar Life A.D. (After Danica)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 31 2011

Danica Patrick's move to stock cars is big for NASCAR. Could it be big trouble for IndyCar? (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Danica Patrick’s announcement about jilting the IndyCar Series for NASCAR started tongues wagging and keyboards clicking last week as pundits pondered the impact Ms. Patrick will have on stock car racing.

Frankly, nobody knows how she’ll do on the track. She’s reasonably talented and will have reasonably good equipment. Other than that all we know for certain know is that because of her good looks and spunky spirit she’s going to create a major buzz, at least for a while.

Meanwhile back in the IndyCar Series one thing IS certain: Danica’s departure will leave a void that is impossible to fill, and spells trouble for a league already gasping for attention.

After IndyCar’s brightest star blinks out, it’s going to be a dark universe. Racing historians may trace the trajectory of the series to 2012 A.D. – After Danica.

The media landscape is already bleak and barren. On Monday morning, The Tennessean, my hometown newspaper, carried ONE PARAGRAPH on Sunday’s IndyCar race in Sonoma. That single graph was buried inside, among a “Sports Digest” wrap-up of weekend odd and ends.

That’s the hometown paper of Dario Franchitti. The three-time IndyCar champ and current

A void in the field at IndyCar.

points leader rated a grand total of two lines.

The race wasn’t mentioned on Nashville’s four TV stations. I couldn’t watch it because my cable server doesn’t carry the Versus Channel. I don’t know anyone else’s who does.

Aside from the Indy 500, about the only time the IndyCar Series gets a mention in the media is when Patrick does something. Her press conference last week to announce her impending move to full-time NASCAR generated more coverage than the IndyCar Series has received in years.

When Patrick exploded onto the scene seven years ago, open-wheel racing was wobbling and wheezing. Patrick’s presence infused fresh interest and attention into the series. Some felt that she single-handedly dragged it to shore and pumped life back into it.

So what happens after Danica departs?

I imagine the answer keeps folks in the IndyCar Series awake at night. If they’re not worried, they ought to be.

The IndyCar Series has been a one-trick pony for years. Other than the Indy 500 I doubt that Joe Sixpack could name another race on the circuit. (It doesn’t help that 12 of the league’s 17 races are carried on a cable channel that many fans can’t get.)

Likewise, for seven years the series has been a one-star show in terms of mainstream following. Now that lone star is twinkling out.

What will Danica’s long-term impact be on NASCAR? Nobody knows. But we know what the impact will be on the IndyCar Series, and the future is glum for life A.D.

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

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 31 2011
10 Comments

10 Comments »

  • Allie says:

    I think Danica’s overrated but she did being attention to the Series.

    I think if Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal could start winning more races and challenging in the points race, it would help the Series a lot. I love Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Will Power, but they’re not american (and I say this as a Scot). The Indycar series has had a huge influx of foreign drivers the last 5 years. If you look at the Indy 500 Grid in 2005/6, it was largely American. Now its mostly foreign. It needs more successful american drivers. If Marco was winning more races – he’s young, American, has a name all motorsport fans know and a lot of non-motorsport fans would know.

    f1 is going to hit the same problem with the USA Grand Prix. An american driver would help the success of it a lot.

  • Chris says:

    @J

    Did you notice how many vacant seats there were at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s IndyCar race? From Turn 4 to about 400 yards before the start/finish line, the seats were COMPLETELY empty. Apparently, people in New England must not know INDYCAR even exists. But you’re right, crowds have (albeit slowly) started to come back to the races. There’s been lots of side-by-side racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series recently. And consider the feud between the dominant men — Will Power and Dario Franchitti — at Toronto. That was fun. Reminded me of a typical NASCAR feud. Additionally, next year, the new INDYCAR chasses will debut, and a year later, new aero kits. Both have been lauded by the media. Also, Versus is available in about 75 million homes and rising as more and more people subscribe to digital cable. Also, with Versus and NBC about to begin a 10-year contract with the NHL and the soon renaming of Versus to NBC Sports Network, what I’m hoping is that NBCUniversal gets more strict about the channel’s carriage and forces cable channels to put the channel in their basic tiers (listed near ESPN and Fox Sports affiliates, for example). That’s going to be weird for IndyCar, to have its cable broadcaster the sports channel of one network (NBC) and its over-the-air broadcaster being a competitor (ABC).

  • Mr. Tony Geinzer says:

    Excuse me, I am sick of the IndyCar Non Parade as I feel that it should be Indy Car and I know that I am wishing Bozo Barnhart would be the last unpleasant vestige of the 1993-2007 Years Freed into the History Books. Please, Randy Bernard, I would promote someone from ASCS, USAC or Outlaws, not another Diana Ross or Worse.

  • Overra88ted says:

    Don’t forget, Dale Jr. has only 1 win in the last 6+ years. Interesting how Danica hitches her wagon to the master of T-shirt sales, no on track performance required.The only “performance” Danica and Dale Jr. care about is their lame “Brands”.

  • Steveo says:

    If the new car makes the racing more competitive and allows more opportunities for drivers and teams to close the gap on Penske/Ganassi, i think the series will be fine, maybe even become more popular. They also need to race more often than every 3 or 4 weeks. By the time the next race rolls around they are forgotten, which does nothing to keep the momentum going after a good race.

  • Mik says:

    Honestly, IndyCar survived long before Danica, and will survive after her. Her going to NASCAR cheapens the Nationwide series, and is a clear sign of what is wrong with sponsor dollars today. An average driver without any notable accolades in other motorsports forms will be getting a better shot at success than Franchitti or Hornish did back in ‘08. That, and a given her average amount of talent and lack of results, she’s only getting a high profile ride because of GoDaddy and her public persona. Ask talented up and comers like Alli Owens, Johanna Long, or Chrissy Wallace if they were given the same opportunities, and how they feel about her gettinig to ride a rocket to the top, without having proven herself in other racing disciplines. And no, 1 win in 7 years of competition is not proving anything. You know who also has 1 win in 7+ years? Casey Mears. Where’s his sponsor dollar parade?

    There are a lot of people in the Indy garages who will be relieved to see the door hit her on the way out…between her negative attitude and primadonna ways over there.

    In terms of coverage, since she’s struggled, IndyCar doesn’t cover her as much as it did. At Sonoma this past weekend, watching the braodcast, she was interveiwd pre-race…and that was it. She ran in the mid-20s all day and limped home there. No other mention.

    IndyCar will survive. The real issue is Barnhart…who needs to go.

  • john says:

    Honestly? I wish there was life after Danica there, but I’m not sure it’ll happen. No matter how much fans complain about the BS officiating, some of the crappy road course racing, or a spec car… When it comes right down to it the #1 reason Indycar fails is because of the Penske/Ganassi juggernaut. It’s like watching F1 in the Schumacher era, where you watched who lead into Turn 1, turned the race off, and came back 2 hours later and watched him take the checkered flag. Yes to be fair, it’s three drivers winning between the two teams instead of one, but it’s no consolation… You need to have underdogs, you need to have surprise winners, you need to have rivalries… And Franchitti/Power doesn’t cut it.

    If you see the real personalities and the “little” guys of the series win some races, your Tony Kanaans, your Takuma Satos, or Taglianis, your Rahals, and you’ll start bringing back some mainstream interest. The racing is just plain predictable–so no matter how exciting the on-track product is, if you know the outcome, you don’t want to watch.

  • Brian from NY says:

    I think their is a misconception by people in the media that believe that Danica saved Indycar in 05 and that her leaving will destroy the series. The problem is they have no data to prove that Danica has helped ratings or track attendence. The fact is she has raised awareness to the Joe six pack crowd, but has done nothing to bring people to the TV’s or out to the track. Even when the media went nuts in 2005 after Indy, the ratings and attendence did not go up because of Danica, so why would losing her make any difference?

    Indycar has many challenges to regain it’s fan base, and I agree that the media plays a big part in helping to grow the series. The media choses to ignore Indycar racing, and getting them be a partner in growing the sport is the first challenge. American media members like to believe that unless they cover it, it’s not important. They like to pretend that Nascar is the most popular form of racing in the world when Formula 1 has as many as 400 million people watching each race worldwide. The Daytona 500 gets about 10 to 15 million.

    Indycar needs to expand it’s reach to new markets that follow open wheel racing. In Brazil, a growing market for American companies, 30 million people watch F1. These are the types of fans that enjoy openwheel racing. China also has a huge F1 following that makes Nascar look tiny (Indycar plans on a 2012 race there). Indycar may never get it’s ratings back within the US, but if they can increase their International TV ratings then they will be able to develop the top level of openwheel racing in the America’s. Hopefully the US media will report on Indycar again instead of focusing on one person. Just because they chose not to cover it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exsist. I didn’t see anything in my paper about the Belgium Grand Prix, but I am sure that a few people watched it.

  • Pat san diego says:

    What her critics don’t get is she is an American and people like to root for the underdog.
    I don’t care how well she does she is a 5′1″ hundred pound girl going against the best male drivers in the world in a sport that has been dominated by the men forever. There have been a few other women here and there but none have really challenged the boys or lasted very long. If you’re a parent and you try to get your kids (especially young girls) interested in racing its a lot easier with an attractive American girl that they can identify with than a bunch guys whose names they can’t pronounce. This nothing against those guys, it’s just practicality. I mean when you have three commentators that pronounce some drivers names three different ways its a problem. Look no further than maybe the next most renowned driver (because of Dancing With The Stars). That would be Helio (pronounced el-eo) I’ve heard it a half of a dozen different ways and lets not get started with the last name.
    Than there is the fact like you say INDY barely gets mentioned in sports reports. They can hardely get mentioned on ESPN even when their Parent Company ABC televises five races. The INDY 500 the exception. And sho is one of the most conistant drivers at INDY other whether she runs up front most of the tim or like the last two years coming from the back of the pack and finishing in the top 10.
    That would be Danica.

  • J says:

    Facts: Indycar TV ratings are up across the board (including doubling viewer rates on Versus). Indycar attendance is equal or increasing at every race (sans Milwaukee) compared to last season. The Indianapolis 500 is knocking on the door of a sellout again. Indycar fields are the largest they have ever been.

    All of this has NOTHING to do with Danica Patrick. She has not even had a sniff at a podium finish this season. Will Indycar lose a little marketing power, sure. But she’s more popular for her commercials than her racing at this point.