Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Danica A No-Go for The 500

Danica Patrick answered one "big" question yesterday when she announced that she will be driving a Sprint Cup car instead of an Indy car on Memorial Day weekend. So ended a lot of speculation as to whether or not she would be back to try the 500 as a one-off effort.

Previously the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte was not on her 10-race Cup schedule, but financing came through and she and her team made a "business decision" to stay on the Cup side. However, she did not rule out the possibility of doing the "double" and running both races in 2013 and beyond.

It was the right thing to do, and the timing was right as well. Had she held out on making a decision the question would have followed her to each stop of the Nationwide (and Sprint Cup) series, and would have more than likely spilled over into the IndyCar series. Now it is out of the way and more than likely a non-issue for everyone involved.

I also think that having "the decision" out of the way will only help in her further development as a stock car driver. Though she did an admirable job considering the circumstances, jumping back and forth between the two series last year probably hurt her in both places in the long run. Regardless of whether or not she said she was focused on the task at hand depending on the race weekend, there had to be some sort of effect on her performance because focusing on IndyCar hindered her stock car development, and focusing on stock cars took time away from her IndyCar effort.

Plus, I think like with many of the other drivers who have left the series it is time to just let it all go. Let's face it...Danica isn't coming back. If Sam Hornish through all of his struggles still enjoys the competition (and the money) in the stock car world, the only way Danica would come back would be if 1) she was a total flop (not gonna happen) or 2) she ran out of funding (a la Dario Franchitti). That will sure as hell NEVER happen. A lot of people at a lot of levels are invested in her stock car future, and her popularity ensures her to always have enough resources at her disposal.

I guess what is left on the IndyCar side is to see what effect is felt in terms of interest in the series. Sure, Danica moving on will change that in some way, but I don't think it will be as bad as it might have been in years past. The series is beginning to stand on its own two feet and as time goes on hopefully the people that Danica brought into the sport stay because they like the product.

Her departure also gives the series a chance to do something it should have done long ago, which is to promote the other personalities and storylines that exist in the series. All of the sudden, IndyCar has a new and fresh generation of drivers who in one way or another appeal to everyone. That may not have been the case in the past, but drivers like Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe and Simona De Silvestro (among others) are people that can inject a lot of interest in the sport if the series markets them wisely. I'm not saying that was Danica's fault, but the series hitched their wagon to her and a lot of other people with great stories were left behind.

Though I have been critical of Danica in the past, I hope she does well in NASCAR, for herself and to quiet the critics that say a jump from open wheel can't be done. More than anyone, she is in the best position, she is with solid teams who have gobs of money and plenty of resources. If she fails it will be based on her driving and not a lack of funding or other circumstances that have held other open wheel drivers back.

While I will follow her in Cup I guess the thing that in a way "disappoints" me is that she had the chance to win the Indy 500 someday. While I feel like she was an average driver at other places in the series, I always thought she had some sort of connection with the Speedway, as six top-10 finishes shows.

But if she can live with walking away from that, I guess the rest of us can, too.

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