Monday, January 23, 2012

No Danica At Indy Better In The Long Run

Part of me cringes when a Danica Patrick topic comes up, because whatever you think of NASCAR’s new star, she inspires some very strong opinions on both sides. For my part, I wasn’t a huge fan, but I wish her well in her endeavor.

The news came today that Danica won’t be in the Indy 500 this year, and of course, it will elicit the normal wild swing of reactions, from “good riddance” to “now no one will watch the Indy 500”. While I personally don’t believe it would have been the end of the world for Patrick to contest the 500 once more, in the end, I think it’s good for the IZOD IndyCar Series to have her completely out of there.

Danica is a celebrity, and that means that whatever she’s doing at the track will inspire notice in some sense. But here’s the thing: she’s not coming back to IndyCar. She’s gone, to more expensive pastures, and whatever efforts are on her behalf will be centered on NASCAR.

There’s evidence that the hardliners at places such as Indy had somewhat soured on her in recent years; following the infamous “it’s not my fault” line in 2010, she heard massive boos for the first time. 2011’s Indy reception was tempered, but still mixed. From then on, though still a rockstar, her reception was mixed, with just as much bad attention as good. I was in the stands at both Kentucky and Indy this past year, and one driver alone received a hearty mix of boos and cheers. You can guess which one.

Bottom line: we aren’t going to get anywhere by relying on NASCAR’s star. We have an entire generation of potential stars in James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, JR Hildebrand, and others that have been obscured behind a certain driver’s shadow for too long as it is. In a sense, Danica’s popularity was a two-edged sword; although she undoubtedly drew attention, she also drew excessive coverage during races (even when not in contention), and potentially stunted development of new stars for the Series. It’s the classic case of putting too many of your eggs in one basket. Even as the Series seemed to realize this in recent years, it’s going to take some undoing. Fortunately, the Series’ arsenal is as full as it’s been in some time: new car, new engines, a new wave of talented drivers, and as much talent as we’ve seen in some time. These will be the building blocks for what is to come in INDYCAR. No moping, no wistful glances, no what-ifs. We do not want a Month of May filled with middling, irrelevant coverage of a driver who will be there for a single race, and gone once more to NASCAR after the checkered flag drops.

The Danica ship has sailed. The less time we spend running down the pier, trying to catch one last glimpse, the better.


  1. Simona driving with burnt hands and with real skills on road courses is a star in the making imo. It may not be possible to replicate Danica's combination of timing and looks that gave her such fame, but Simona can fill the role of hero for the very youngsters that were introduced to the sport through Danica. Going into the season, she's the driver I'd most like to see get their first win.

  2. It would be great for Simona to get a victory this year. On a street course, given anything close to a competitive vehicle, I believe she could do it.

  3. Zachary, I agree completely. I don't think race attendance at the Indy 500 will suffer from a lack of Danica's presence although there could be a short term reduction in TV viewership.

    What I don't think a lot of folks have mentioned is that she made the right decision for her motor sport career in not running Indy in 2012. What she needs to do if she is going to succeed in NASCAR is concentrate soley on it. Even when she's not racing in a Sprint Cup race, she needs to be at the track with the team learning from the experience.

    In short, I think she's made the right call for all concerned.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Mac. I do think the 500 might see a short-term drop in ratings, but that could just be from last year being the Centennial Anniversary and hard to top. But I guess we’ll see—last year’s finish hopefully raised some eyebrows.

    As for Danica, I do think it could be the right call for her as well. I hope she does well in her chosen path, and that will require plenty of focus.

  5. I find it interesting that this was not announced until AA/GoDaddy had come up with Hinch. I have a feeling that had they NOT been able to secure a charismatic figure to drive the GoDaddy car, the folks at GoDaddy might have insisted that she run Indy, exposure being what it is.

    That being said, I suspect her decision is for the best on both sides of the coin. She needs to concentrate on her new "job," while IndyCar needs to concentrate on promoting some of its new young talent and not be "All Danica, All the Time" as it has been.

    Moreover, though she has improved in her abiilities to handle road/street course racing, the trend of IndyCar toward MORE twisties and less ovals did not fit her area of expertise.

    I postulated way back during the season that I thought she would return to Indy. My only reservation was the learning curve that will be involved with the new car. Once Danica gets fully entrenched in Cup racing, the likelihood of her ever doing Indy will be significantly diminished unless changes are made in the scheduling of one or the other event to encourage participation in both.