Danica Working on Branding and Kicking

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 17 2009
Danica Patrick has a lot on her plate these days.

Danica Patrick has a lot on her plate these days.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Free-agent Danica Patrick doesn’t plan to announce a decision on her next contract until after the current IndyCar Series season ends in October.

But ”kicking butt” on the racetrack and streamlining her “brand” will be the key factors in where Danicamania operates beginning in 2010 and beyond.

“I think the most important thing for me is to put myself in a situation where I can win as many races as possible and run up-front and be in that competitive situation,” Patrick said during a national teleconference Tuesday afternoon. “That’s the most important thing. Because at the end of the day, usually the best press comes when I’m doing things on track. That’s really the most important thing for me as a driver. So that’s where the ultimate focus is going to go.

“Then aside from that, and after that, there has to be thoughts to the brand side of the situation, and being able to make the most of myself as an athlete and as an endorser of products and things like that and gaining exposure so that in due time I’m able to explore other things outside of racing maybe even. So, all of that comes afterwards. The most important thing is kicking butt out there.”

Patrick, 27, is in the third and final year of a contract with Andretti Green Racing. And like a baseball free-agent looking to cash-in, Patrick is putting together an impressive walk season. She has logged four top-five finishes in the season’s first six races, one of only three series regulars to do so.

Patrick started fifth and finished sixth in her most recent outing, the Bombardier Learjet 550k at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6. Patrick is fifth in driver championship points, 32 behind leader Ryan Briscoe and 29 behind reigning series champion Scott Dixon, heading into Iowa Speedway for Sunday afternoon’s Iowa Corn Indy 250.

Patrick, whose negotiations are being handled by International Management Group, broad-brushed questions about contract offers from AGR co-owner Michael Andretti and rival IndyCar team-owner Chip Ganassi into the “options” category.

“I think we’re working towards some things together,” said Patrick, referring to AGR. “It’s been a great situation this year with Mike, and with my new engineer, Eddie (Jones). The crew has been having a great time. We’ve been getting along. It’s the same crew from last year, basically. We’re all working together and most importantly having a good time at it. So, I think that whenever you’re in a situation where you’re doing well, it’s always very attractive, and you don’t want to lose that. So we’ll just have to see where that goes.”

Meanwhile, various internet reports had Ganassi pursuing Patrick in what could shake out into either a two- or three-car situation at Target Chip Ganassi Racing next season. Dixon, the two-time series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner, is rumored to be under consideration for a ride with a start-up IndyCar team led by former Team Penske star Gil de Ferran. If Dixon were to leave, Patrick would be paired with Dario Franchitti, the 2007 series and Indy 500 champion.

Ganassi’s ability to enter Patrick in selected NASCAR events, and the organization’s mainstream marketing ties with Target, are viewed as huge carrots in the negotiations.

“They (TCGR) are one of the top three teams in the IndyCar Series,” said Patrick, referring to AGR, Ganassi and Penske. “But then again, I’m also driving for one of those top three teams in the IndyCar Series. So it’s going to have to be a really good option for me as a driver and as a brand to expand beyond, because I already drive for a great team. So we’ll just have to see.”

Patrick said the interest expressed by Ganassi, whose Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Cup team is not among NASCAR’s elite, nevertheless has been “attractive.”

“I think one thing is as drivers, we like to challenge ourselves,” said Patrick, who became the first woman to win a major closed-course auto race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in April 2008. “If we’ve done something well, can we do the next thing well? So I think it’s the opportunity to show your ability.

“NASCAR has so many viewers and so many partners. There are just lots of options both inside and outside the car. So there’s reasons (to consider a switch), and it looks like fun. There are 40-odd guys that do it every year. I’m not sure how many the number is this year. But, obviously, it’s a good time. Oval racing is always fun. It’s you racing against everyone else, it’s very competitive.

“It’s kind of like the Indy 500 every weekend. That’s a lot of fun as a driver to be part of something important, and something people want to watch.”

Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola Dallara/Honda, finished third in the 93rd edition of the Indy 500 on May 24 – best result by a woman in the event’s history. As a rookie at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2005, she qualified and finished fourth and led 19 laps – another first by a woman driver. In her fifth IndyCar season, Patrick has made 70 series starts with 15 top-five finishes and 41 top-10s. She has qualified on-pole three times.

Patrick said she was not sure how many NASCAR teams had contacted IMG about her. “That’s not for me to handle,” Patrick said. “That’s what I leave up to my agents, and as they tell me, which is the best thing, ‘All I have to do is go out there and perform and they’ll take care of the rest.’ So that’s what I’m going to do.”

After making several references to her “brand,” Patrick said she has asked IMG to “streamline things a little bit more” in an effort to “elevate the brand.”

Asked to define her brand, she said, “My brand is determined, it’s feminine and hopefully – I feel awkward talking about myself like this – but it’s something beautiful, something fast, something interesting and exciting and something inspiring and something iconic and something that’s doing things that’s never been done before. Those are all things that I would hope would describe my brand and that we are going to move down the path on showing through the people that we work with and the things that we do and the way we do them.”

Further, Patrick denied that IMG president George Pyne, formerly NASCAR’s chief operating officer, was attempting to persuade her to jump to stock-car racing.

“I’ve spoken to him (Pyne) before, but I don’t think anyone’s trying to push me,” Patrick said. “They really want to just know what my thoughts are and what I want to do. At this point, I just want to know what my options are. So that’s the point at which we’re at right now is just collecting data and figuring out what our options really are – who is really serious.”

Patrick joked that she would like to have her new contract done before Christmas.

“That would be the worst-case scenario,” Patrick said. “But at the end of the day, I want to do well this year. I want to do well in the series, I want to finish as high as possible, I want to win as many races as I can, so I don’t want to do anything that would take away from that being able to happen. So to be very open about anything to that point would be foolish. That’s for after the season, and we’ll worry about it then, and deal with that then.

“And there might be even some legal things. I have to look at the contract. I’m not sure when I can actually say what I’m going to do. But I don’t want to even worry about it until the season is over anyway.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 17 2009