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.