(Indy Car has abandoned most tracks that provided this kind of incredible racing)
By Pete Pistone
Put yourself in Danica Patrick’s shoes for a minute, and for the sake of this conversation make them her driving shoes and not the stilettos from one of her GoDaddy commercials.
If you had the chance to move from Indy Car to NASCAR wouldn’t you do so in a heartbeat?
The truthful answer is without hesitation.
The opportunity for Patrick in the land of stock car racing far outweighs anything she could imagine to accomplish by sticking with the current American open wheel scene. NASCAR offers her the chance to build her brand greater than it is today, generate untold millions in marketing and sponsorship, become an even larger worldwide star and to race in the most competitive form of automobile racing in this country.
It’s an obvious no brainer.
Though no one expects Patrick to jump right into the role of favorite for next year’s Nationwide Series title, there is no reason to believe she can’t be in the mix for a win or two.
In just a limited amount of time Patrick already has a fourth place finish at Las Vegas earlier this season to her credit as well as coming pretty darn close to winning last Fourth of July weekend at Daytona.
Those who doubt her ability are making a big mistake. It’s pretty evident she can drive a racecar and also apparent the more time she spends focusing on her stock car career the better she gets.
That’s do in no small part to the Nationwide super team Patrick has aligned herself with at JR Motorsports. With Hendrick Motorsports support and engines along with the mentor combo platter of Tony Eury Jr. and Sr., Patrick’s No. 7 Chevrolet is one of the premier rides in NASCAR’s number two division.
Compare the situation to the one she has in the Indy Car series as a member of Andretti AutoSport. While Michael Andretti’s team isn’t a fly by night organization by any means, it isn’t on par with the powerhouses at Penske and Ganassi who have teamed up to win ten of the season’s first fifteen races.
The difference between the haves and the have nots in Indy Car racing is pretty significant and right now Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi are the major players with the dominant teams. Everyone else, including Andretti’s operation, which does have multiple victories this season, runs for scraps.
Now look at the situation Patrick finds herself in the Nationwide Series where JR Motorsports is on par with the KHI, Roush Fenway and Penske organizations, the expected cream of next year’s series crop.
When Patrick does finally bid farewell to her Indy Car career, with the possible exception of potential Indy 500 starts, she’ll deal the struggling series a major blow.
Series officials continue to put on a brave face that the circuit can both survive and prosper without their most famous competitor.
"I wish her well," said Indy Car CEO Randy Bernard. "We would love for her to stay, but my job is to build the Indy Car Series with the drivers that are here. I'm very excited about the opportunity because I don't believe our ratings or our attendance will decrease without her."
I admire what Bernard has tried to do in his short tenure at the helm of the series but I’m hard pressed to share his optimism.
Television ratings are just this side of infomercials and despite putting on occasionally exciting races, the recognition factor for both the series and its drivers is dismal.
The decision to create a schedule that has ditched most oval tracks for a balance of street circuits and road courses has proven to be unwise and in fact might have helped Patrick expedite her decision to bolt for NASCAR.
At one time when the Indy Car Series was known as the IRL the core of the circuit was a series of high-speed oval track events that were as exhilarating as any form of racing in motorsports.
But rather than build on those phenomenal events the series business plan moved away and back to the mix of road races and street circuit events that did bring more diversity to the schedule but did so at the cost of competition.
The bulk of the Indy Car schedule is now comprised of events like this weekend’s inaugural Grand Prix of Baltimore, which will draw a good-sized crowd and more than likely be deemed a financial success. But odds are the actual event itself will be more single file parade than memorable race as is the case with most affairs held on narrow street circuits.
Indy Car racing’s past is littered with similar failed attempts to bring the racing to the masses with races in San Jose, Denver, Detroit, Vancouver, Houston and even the New Jersey Meadowlands venues where the concept fizzled out.
Who knows where Indy Car might be today if it had followed the tradition of oval track racing and built upon the heritage of the biggest race on its schedule and in the world – the Indianapolis 500.
The landscape of today’s racing world as well as what lies ahead in the future made Patrick’s decision a pretty simple one.
No matter what shoes she was wearing at the time.
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