Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Should Danica Come to NASCAR?

Rumor has it that Danica Patrick is at least considering making the switch to NASCAR from the Indy Racing League. (Of course, that same rumor floats around every time Danica's contract is close to being up and may be more about salary negotiation than anything else.) If Danica did move over to stock cars, it would be a huge loss for the Indy series and a big gain for NASCAR. Not because Danica would necessarily turn out to be a winning driver in NASCAR, at least, not for a while, but because she is a genuine celebrity and events that depend on public support live or die by their super stars and the sponsor money they are able to attract.

My prediction is that Danica will not leave Indy for NASCAR, at least not in the near term, for three reasons:

1) She's truly making her mark in IRL. Once simply a beautiful sideshow, she has now won a race, is currently ranked fifth in championship points, finished third at the Indianapolis 500 this year. I think she'll want to stay until she wins the 500, the crown jewel of Indy car racing. To leave now would mean cutting short a dream only partially achieved.

2) She is a big frog in the relatively small pond of Indy cars, probably the most recognized name in the series. Granted, she'd get lots of publicity in NASCAR but she'd still be one among many. Her competition for fan adoration would be Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards.... Her sex would give her a natural base of support. Lots of men would gravitate to her because she's gorgeous and sexy; lots of women would follow her simply to support one of their own. (Of course, others would dismiss her for the very same reasons). Right now, she has her lilly pad pretty much to herself. She might prefer it that way.

3) To succeed in NASCAR, Danica would most likely have to slide downward into one of the lesser series for a season, maybe ARCA or at least Nationwide, until she got the hang of driving a stock car. Many high performing open wheel drivers have tried to make the transition without a great deal of immediate success including Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish, A. J. Allmendinger. They are all making progress but it's been a long haul. Patrick Carpentier gave up, although not willingly, as also happened with Dario Franchitti. Max Papis and Scott Speed are both Sprint Cup rookies this year, having come from open wheel, and both are finding it tough going. Now that Danica seems to have hit hit her stride as a race car driver, I seriously doubt if she'd want to drop down in class to start all over.

Events could prove me wrong though. Right now, IRL seems to be in a state of uncertainty, with no one quite knowing where Tony George will end up in the scheme of things. If the league's future looks shaky, that could propel Danica to NASCAR. Or she could simply be offered a deal it would be impossible to refuse by one of the top teams.

I hope she makes the switch. I admire and root for Danica although I'm not a big Indy car afficionado. Her presence would add an extra element of interest and excitement to my favorite sport. I'd admire and root for her in NASCAR too, although, of course, only to come in second - after Jimmie.