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Montreal weekend musings

  Sunday's Montreal race will be a big, big race for NASCAR hopeful Jacques Villeneuve (R), here talking with road racing ace wild-man Boris Said (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   THE NASCAR NOTEBOOK: Montreal Weekend

   -- Danica Patrick update: The 27-year-old Indy-car star continues to play coy about her 2010 racing plans, insisting she won't make a decision until the end of the Indy Racing League season, in a few weeks. At Sonoma two weeks ago she seemed to indicate she was leaning toward staying in the IRL, and current team owner Michael Andretti (who just reshuffled his team and took complete control) indicated he was "close" to signing her to a new contract.  But at Chicago this week Patrick pointedly declined to answer any questions about her future.
    Patrick is easily the hottest driver in America, perhaps even the most famous, if not the most talented. In her quest to check out the NASCAR world for a possible jump, she dropped by Tony Stewart's shop last month, and some other NASCAR shops too.
   The question is does Danica Patrick have the stomach -- the fire in the belly -- to try NASCAR. It's 38-week tour is a grind, one of the most grinding seasons in all of sports. The cars themselves are a handful, even for veteran stock car racers. And NASCAR's no-testing policy would work against her.
   On the other side, NASCAR offers Patrick much, much more than the IRL -- more visibility (if that's possible), more money, more of everything.
   And then there is the IRL itself that Patrick must consider. With the ouster of Tony George as boss of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and as head of the IRL (which he himself founded) by his own family -- in the biggest, strangest story of the year, the IRL appears in serious trouble. Yes, it has a new 2010 schedule, and the Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi teams are solid; but the rest of the IRL is questionable. In fact, one reason for George's ouster was the fact that to keep the IRL afloat all these years the Speedway and the family have underwritten much of the expense of running the tour. That money is no longer available; the family isn't going to pay teams to run any more. And the IRL has had sponsorship issues for years, unable to attract the major corporate sponsors as NASCAR has, and unable to get a top-notch network TV package either.
   In fact, Jack Roush, one of the biggest NASCAR team owners, and a man who helped George create the IRL some 12 years ago, helping with its then-new engine program, says it looks to him like the IRL is fading away, and Roush's answer to how to save the IRL: "just let it die a natural death."
   Of course Roush is one of the NASCAR men looking to hire Patrick -- to whatever NASCAR program 'learning' package makes the most sense.

  So, is Danica Patrick going to suck it up and take the leap into NASCAR, and show us all just what she's made of....or is she going to wimp out? Just how feisty is this racer anyway? (Photo: Indy Racing League)

The two men best qualified and best positioned to make the most of the marketing bonanza that many in NASCAR think Patrick could be, if managed correctly, are Roush and Rick Hendrick. And Roger Penske too could offer Patrick the best of both worlds.
    Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway, Patrick started 10th and finished 12th, in her "number seven Boost Mobile/Motorola/Dallara/Honda/Firestone" Indy-car: "I really thought we had a car that was capable of finishing in the top-10.  We had a decent practice and qualifying runs, so I thought we would be strong.  It's disappointing we didn't have a better finish. We are headed to Japan in a couple of weeks, so hopefully we have better luck there."
   Maybe so, maybe not. That's where she won last year, at Motegi, becoming the first woman to win an Indy-car race.
   Will she stay with what she's got -- being a big fish in a rather small pond -- or will she gamble on NASCAR? If she does gamble on NASCAR, what would a program look like; who might get her?
   Tony Stewart last month indicated he'd be willing to invite her to his all-star Eldora sprint September 9th. And that's an off-week for the IRL.
   Would Patrick consider that? Might be a good opportunity to size her up, and for her to size up the men she's be running against, and working with in NASCAR, if she goes that route.
   But then, given all the egos in the NASCAR garage, how many of these stock car racers would like to give up tee-shirt and souvenir sales to her, as well as all those media interviews?
   However NASCAR, the sport, certainly needs Patrick, to give it a new spark, after a couple of seasons in the doldrums.
   Checking out NASCAR's current demographics, and the demographics that NASCAR would like to add (young males 25-34, and young females 25-34), and Patrick certainly looks to help fill the bill.
  How Patrick weighs all this out?
  Stay tuned.


   Erin Crocker game face (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

-- One of the oddest stories of recent years, and in a sense one of the most poignant, just played its latest chapter...when Ray Evernham, the brilliant and legendary crew chief-turned-car owner, married Erin Crocker, the Rensselaer graduate who was once on the NASCAR fast-track with aims of becoming a major league Sprint Cup racer.
   Ah, to live happily ever after...or at least until the next race.
   The ceremony, Wednesday at Michael Gaughan's South Point hotel in Las Vegas, follows a tumultuous few years for the two.
   Evernham, who arrived in NASCAR in 1991 (as the late Alan Kulwicki's crew chief) and then led Jeff Gordon to three NASCAR Cup championships, was tabbed by Chrysler execs to bring Dodge back into NASCAR after a nearly 30-year absence. And Evernham's goal, as team owner, was to win a championship on his own. Alas, that goal will apparently never be met. Evernham two years ago sold his team to George Gillett Jr., a sports mega-figure who just sold the Montreal Canadiens for $500 million and who owns a world-class soccer team, among other sports items. Now Evernham, who just turned 52, has moved into the TV booth as color man for NASCAR races.
   Crocker, on the other hand, was a promising NASCAR racer, out of the of Sprint car world, when Evernham signed her as a development driver in 2005.
   What developed, however, was romance, and Crocker's major league career ambitions have seemingly all but died, though she, just 28, still races Sprints.


   Erin Crocker New York City glam shot (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   And new husband, legendary Ray Evernham (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Elsewhere in Las Vegas, at the other end of The Strip, track boss Chris Powell has just started selling tickets to next year's Las Vegas 400, Feb. 26-28, two weeks after the season-opening Daytona 500, and a week after the California 500, just three hours down the road.
    "We have been blessed with great weather on this weekend the past few years," Powell says, with a nod toward this season's many rain-marred NASCAR events.
   Given the sluggish U.S. economy, and the decided slump throughout Las Vegas itself (in part because of corporate fears about the 'Las Vegas' image for conventions and seminars in these troubled times), Powell is wise to start early.
   As rough as 2009 has been for NASCAR promoters (Bristol's Jeff Byrd is the only tour promoter to have sold out both of his Cup events, something that even Daytona can't say), 2010 could be equally tough.
   So ticket prices are down; Las Vegas tickets will start at $49, Powell ( www.lvms.com ) says.
   And with the city boasting over 150,000 hotel rooms, that part of this particular NASCAR weekend could be easier on the wallet. Ticket prices are just a small part of the budget for any NASCAR weekend; hotel rates are generally the budget buster.
   And just what time will the 400 start? Not yet decided.
   Starting times of Cup events have been a hot button issue this year, right from the 3:18 p.m. Sunday start of the eventually rain-shortened Daytona 500 opener.


  Only in Vegas....Hey, girls, did you really get those outfits at Chico's? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

And down in Fort Worth, track boss Eddie Gossage is also moving quickly to start selling tickets to his 2010 season events, even before the Nov. 8th Cup race this fall.
   To avoid a run-in with the Masters, Texas Motor Speedway will be moving its Cup Sunday to April 18th, swapping spring dates with Phoenix International Raceway, which will be running again on Saturday night, April 10th.
   While selling 'season ticket' packages has been hotly objected to by some fans, particularly at tracks like Chicago, Texas will be selling season ticket packages (from $279), including the full schedule of events, NASCAR and Indy-car.
   Texas' fall Cup race in 2010 will be Nov. 7th.
   The full 2010 NASCAR schedule is expected out sometime this week or next, but each track will apparently be releasing its own information separately ahead of that.

   Those not buying NASCAR tickets through the various speedways may try ticketmaster's "TicketExchange," an online service ( www.ticketmaster.com ).

   He scores, he shoots: promoter Eddie Gossage (L) watching Carl Edwards celebrating in victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    If Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart, or Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya and Danica Patrick for that matter, would like to try the Indianapolis 500-Charlotte 600 double next May 30th, they might be in luck....if Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials do decide to move the starting time of the Memorial Day 500 back to 11 a.m.
   The 500 has started at 1 p.m. lately, a made-for-TV-ratings move; but that has kept any NASCAR drivers from trying the double, because they couldn't make it from Indy to Charlotte in time for the Sunday evening 600.
   The move by Indy could help boost ratings for the 500, if any NASCAR drivers could be enticed to make the gruelling attempt.
   Stewart, who did the double a couple of times, has pretty much ruled out racing Indy cars any more, though he does live just down the road from the Speedway -- where he has never won the 500.
   Gordon would be a logical pick for the 500-600; he's come close to winning the 500 several times.
   Hornish and Montoya of course won at Indy before jumping to NASCAR.
   Patrick has had a shot at winning Indy and is one of that tour's top drivers...and she is debating a jump into NASCAR.
   One problem: who really is running Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League, now that the Hulman George family has fired long-time boss Tony George?


   The Indy-Charlotte double next Memorial Day? Hey, Robby Gordon will do it (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


I thought the Danica to

I thought the Danica to Nascar gambit was fading, Mike......what gives?

Well, let's look at it like

Well, let's look at it like this: if you were danica patrick, what would you do? When the IRL schedule was released with its opening event listed as 'somewhere in brazil, TBD,' I would think twice about holding on to a career in that division.....

Mike, I wonder how much the

Mike, I wonder how much the Versus/DirecTV dispute and IMG getting in her ear about it was behind her sidestepping questions about her future this past weekend at Chicago and maybe, just maybe getting her to re-open talks about a Nascar ride?

One thing: Danica has some

One thing: Danica has some very good and smart people as business agents (though sometimes sports agents can be too smart for their own good), and I'm confident they've laid out both sides.
Another thing: Danica can stay right where she is, and do just what she's been doing, and sign another three-year contract to keep on keeping on...and then maybe in three years she's no longer such a hot commodity. It happens; check out some of NASCAR's own.
And another thing: without Tony George at the helm and without the Speedway helping to underwrite the expenses of running an IRL team, the future cannot be quite as bright as it once was...not even mentioning the fact that Jack Roush, who knows a thing or two about sports and who helped launch the IRL, says its dying on the vine.
I think she would certainly be willing to try NASCAR -- but I also think that all these egos in NASCAR today (it's a wonder the garage doesn't explode sometimes) would be more than a little jealous at someone as hot a sports item as Danica Patrick coming in and stealing their thunder....as well as their tee-shirt sales.
Hey, she should just suck it up and try it. And if I were her, I'd be over at Eldora next week just to hang out....

Danifraud and Error Crocker

Danifraud and Error Crocker have so much in common - they have little talent but a knack for being able to stick around when they should have been parked. That demographic study you cited doesn't mean anything as far as whether Danifraud should be allowed in NASCAR. The fact is she brings nothing to the table and her career should die the natural death Roush notes.

The only way there should be any Indy-Charlotte double is to move the 600 to Monday afternoon - take it away from primetime; racing simply doesn't work in primetime, it works from 12 PM onward.

Danica at Stewart-Haas again?

Danica at Stewart-Haas again? Hm.......

Well, she's won as many

Well, she's won as many NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season as all but 13 stock car stars.....and you might want to check out this Indy Racing League Bahia thing, as a season-opener.....I've been to Salvador Bahia, and it's a beautiful city, but I'm not so sure about racing there.....

I see Danica hanging out at

I see Danica hanging out at the Stewart-Haas shop again? Hm........

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