Friday, November 17, 2017

Color Me Shocked!

No, not really.

It was confirmed today that Danica Patrick has decided to retire from racing full-time and only run two races in 2018, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. It seems that at age 36 that it might be a little soon to be walking away from racing, but with no significant ride opportunities on the horizon, it's not really a bad time, either.

It's a little weird to think about Danica walking away from the sport at age 36, but at the same time, when you look at the life she leads, it's not really that surprising. She has a lot of off-track ventures that she seems happy to be involved in, like her cookbooks, clothing line, fitness and philanthropy, and those will keep her busy -- and provide her with a lot of income -- for years to come.

Plus, it wouldn't surprise me if she and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. decide to start a family in the next year or so. For a woman who races, that has to really be a tough decision. First, because it keeps them out of the car for a significant amount of time, and second, because once the baby comes, do they really want to get back into a car again? Sarah Fisher is a good example of that, once she started her family in 2011, she took her life in another direction.

If this is indeed the end of the road for Danica, it will close out one of the more polarizing careers in racing history. She was definitely a topic of conversation, and most people had an opinion, usually a very strong one.

Some people saw Danica as a trailblazer, a woman competing with the men at some of the highest levels of racing in the world. Others saw her as an overhyped driver who only had her job because of her gender and the ability to draw in a gob of money in sponsorship.

The funny thing about both people? They always paid attention to how she did.

Time has a funny way of measuring people. In the here and now, tied to emotions, we might think of people one way, but down the road we change our opinion. Today, one win in 13 years of combined NASCAR and IndyCar competition isn't all that impressive, but in the years to come I think Danica will take a place in history.

Whether we like it or not, women have a difficult time competing with men in racing. I don't blame that on gender, of course, because there are a lot of great racers out there who just happen to be female, but most of them never really got the chance they deserved due to some leftover opinions that still exist in some factions of the sport.

Danica was one of the few that got a real, legitimate shot. She had the funding, the equipment, and the sponsorship, and while the results didn't follow, the fact that she held her own in competition and showed women can be legitimate competitors in racing will pay dividends for another woman somewhere down the road. I actually look forward to the day a woman has a significant amount of success in racing, winning races, finishing on the podium and even contenting for a championship. That will be really cool.

That's the thing about opening doors: the person who opens the door doesn't always reap the most rewards. People like Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James got the door open, and people like Sarah Fisher, Simona De Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Danica Patrick opened it a little wider. Thanks to them, somewhere there is a girl racing a kart or in a junior series who is going to bust it wide open.

So enough about her career, for now, what about the Indy 500? I'm going on record as stating she has the opportunity to do very well. There is no doubt that she will find the sponsorship and find her way to a good team, most likely, I'd say, Andretti Autosport.

When it comes time to race, past history speaks for itself. Though maybe the "era" she ran in wasn't as competitive as it is today, she still had two Top 5 finishes and six Top 10 finishes, and in six of her seven starts she completed every lap of competition. She's also led 29 laps, and if you don't think of that as significant, check out this list of all of the drivers who have led laps in 500 history. Danica is in good company.

I'm not going to go super out on a limb and say she is a contender to win, but a finish in the 10-15 range isn't out of the question.

At the end of the day, Indy is really a good place for Danica to finish her career, because that's where it all got started. I think it's a good deal, and I will be rooting for her -- unless she is going head-to-head with my driver for the win of course! Hopefully she has a great month and goes out on her terms, which is what we should hope for for any athlete who is walking away from their sport.