Of course, we've seen the gamut of responses, from the somewhat giddy speculations on the boon to NASCAR to the good riddances/good luck of her non-fans in IndyCar. I think both extremes miss on what this really means for Danica, NASCAR, and the IZOD IndyCar Series.
First, this announcement highlighted a lot of what is wrong with ESPN (minus Oreo's excellent article on the topic). I don't think there was anyone in the IndyCar paddock who thought Danica wasn't going to Nationwide last year; it was taken as a matter of course. Yet ESPN, which has not exactly endeared itself to IndyCar fans with it's Danica-centric coverage superseding any actual IndyCar happenings, again worked as the arbiter of when news became news. The giddy, celebratory coverage seemed the mark of an entertainment network pushing their newest star, not a sports outlet reporting actual news. Of course, that's not a surprise to any who has watched ESPN lose much of their remaining journalistic integrity as a network over the past decade plus.
Although it's entirely possible GoDaddy will still have a minor sponsorship presence in IndyCar next year, I doubt we'll see them on the level we saw this year. I'm not personally a fan of GoDaddy's advertising style, but of course sponsorship in the series is always a good thing. I do think Andretti Autosport will find sponsorship to compensate--just as they've found names like Sun Drop, DHL, and most recently, Buffalo Wild Wings, which hopefully blossoms into a bigger deal for Michael Andretti's guys.
As for Danica herself, depending on who you talk to, she's either an ice queen or a sweet girl swept up in the intensity of racing. Again, I don't really like caricatures of who or what people are. We see one side or another; very few people are all one thing or all another. I'm sure sometimes she's as nice as can be; other times she's probably abrasive. I always think of times where people have caught me at a bad moment or a stressful time; uniform pleasantness and courtesy probably has not been by M.O. in those cases. I'm sure Danica's no different.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
For many of the fans, there is perhaps some sadness (though certainly the fanbase has grown more fractured, with her 2010 IndyCar Pole Day moment an audible breaking point), but also some sense of relief despite her popularity. Danicamania made much of the coverage, especially on ABC/ESPN, frustrating to watch. If Danica was running up front, all good and well she would be covered. If she were three laps down in P20, she would still get a healthy chunk of air time, which was frustrating when there was a battle up front. It seemed as if VERSUS began to dial down their coverage of Patrick this year to normalized levels, and the coverage was much improved for it. Does her absence hurt with the casual fan? Very possibly, but the series needs to find other ways to bring in new fans than focusing on one driver. They painted themselves in the corner by the hyper-focus on Danica, but I don't think they've been blind to the fact other avenues of outreach are needed.
Danica will do just fine for herself in NASCAR, whether she wins some races or tools around mid-pack. Andretti Autosport will endure, and will press on in the excitement of the changes 2012 is sure to bring that team. The IZOD Indycar Series will endure, with hopes resting not on Danica, but on a new engine competition, a new car, and a new generation of drivers.
Danica Patrick will leave a mixed legacy in IndyCar, and it might be a while until we really can look back and see the true goods and ills of the Danica Era in American open-wheel racing. For 2012, though, we've got our hands full with plenty of news already. That sort of retrospective is going to have to wait.