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The Danica Update: an analysis

  Danica Patrick: She's got a NASCAR game plan, but is it the right one? (Photo: IMS)


   By Mike Mulhern


   There is a growing consensus in the NASCAR garage that Tony Stewart – who runs a Rick Hendrick satellite Chevrolet operation on the Cup tour, and who himself made a successful transition from Indy-cars to NASCAR – now has the inside line on signing Danica Patrick to a NASCAR contract.
   Patrick's precise plans are still up in the air, though the options were certainly a point of discussion at a Saturday night business dinner here with NASCAR president Mike Helton, Chevrolet's new global boss Brent Dewar, and others.
    And Chevrolet appears to have the advantage and the momentum in the Danica game, over Ford, Toyota and Dodge. In fact Ford's Geoff Smith, head of Roush Fenway Racing, says his company has not pursued Patrick beyond the initial meeting in early July:
   "The concept we were left with (by Patrick and her agents) was not one that we could make an unrestricted financial commitment to support, because the probability of a successful outcome was greatly diminished by that plan," Smith said.
   "We wanted to see a plan that had much more depth to it (i.e., more NASCAR races). They understood that.
    "She could still run Indy-cars (under the Roush plan), but she would have to commit to running races (including NASCAR races during the IRL season) all the time, the way that Carl Edwards does.
   "We'd be happy to talk some more about it. But it just kind of evaporated from us -- We haven't heard anything from anybody in a long time. So we're taking that as there's not very much interest."
   Stewart, saying Patrick is definitely coming to NASCAR, in one way or another, appears to be guiding her to a Nationwide/Truck program approach, in making the transition, which could come in 2010, or maybe even earlier.
   One stumbling block, though, is that Stewart himself has no Nationwide or Truck program currently….though perhaps he could 'farm' Patrick out to Kevin Harvick, who has his own shops in Kernersville, N.C. (separate from his Sunday job as Cup driver for team owner Richard Childress). Harvick is a good buddy of Stewart's, and earlier this year there were reports Harvick was looking to join Stewart's Cup team as a third driver.
   Another stumbling block could be that General Motors' bankruptcy hit Harvick's own operation, and he lost Detroit funding. Getting a Patrick deal could be tied to GM's Dewar reviving that funding. And Dewar has shown a good interest in Patrick, who drove in the 24 Hours of Daytona in a Childress Pontiac.
   "Tony is head-and-shoulders above the rest of us in this," one rival team manager said, asking not to be named because he would like the opportunity to make another pitch to Patrick. "Because he's got Hendrick engines and Hendrick engineering, and because he's made the transition himself."

    Is Danica Patrick headed for a NASCAR Chevrolet? Or will Edsel Ford (L, with car owner Jack Roush) have an offer of his own? Ford has a long history of promoting women in racing. (Photo: Autostock)

    Patrick has said much about her game plan for 2010, but it appears to be this:

   -- Run the full Indy Racing League tour, which is set to begin March 14th somewhere in Brazil, and runs through October 2nd at Homestead-Miami.
   -- Run some NASCAR Nationwide and/or Truck races before the IRL season and after the IRL season.
   What she would be doing in NASCAR during the 18-race IRL season is unclear.
  Presuming the 2010 NASCAR tours are similar to 2009, then Patrick could open with Nationwide-or-Truck events at Daytona, California, Las Vegas and Atlanta, before the IRL season kicks off; and she could close out 2010 with Nationwide-or-Truck events at Kansas, California, Charlotte, Memphis, Martinsville, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. That would be 18 Nationwide-or-Truck races at 12 major NASCAR tracks over a three-month span.
  If Patrick were to sandwich Nationwide-or-Truck events into her IRL schedule, she could add NASCAR races at Bristol, Michigan, Loudon, Chicago, Iowa, Richmond and Dover, another nine or so events.
   What she and her business agents laid out to several NASCAR teams in early July, during a tour of stock car shops, was basically no NASCAR during the IRL season. However that program was not well received by NASCAR owners, who didn't feel that sandwiching some NASCAR races around the IRL season made much sense for them, either from a marketing/sponsorship point, or from a driver-learning point.
    Smith says a full-immersion in NASCAR makes the most sense, from both standpoints, and he pointed to Edwards' NASCAR full Cup-and-Nationwide program as an example.
   A baseline for a transition could be Stewart's own career: He joined the IRL tour in 1996, and ran three races, and that same year he joined the Busch (now Nationwide) tour and ran nine races, and he ran a NASCAR Truck race. In 1997 he continued running the IRL, Busch and Trucks, winning the IRL championship. He made the move up to Cup in 1999, winning three times that season; he ran his last IRL race in 2001.
    Toyota's Lee White, head of Toyota racing: "We don't hire drivers; that's up to the team owners.
   "From our standpoint, there is certainly a diversity angle, but you've got to deliver the results. And she would be facing a challenge to get through the minefield of developing her skills with these big, heavy cars."
   But keeping the IRL tour center-most on her agenda, White and others say, is probably not the best way to make the transition. "She's obviously got a revenue stream there (through the IRL), and obligations….and you've got to applaud her for sticking to it.
  "But I'm not sure how successful you can be by just kind of sticking your toe in the water over here."
   However is all this debating simply so much hot air, until Danica Patrick actually gets into a NASCAR stock car -- Nationwide, Cup or Truck -- and run some laps, perhaps at Virginia International Raceway, perhaps at Caraway Speedway.....

  Geoff Smith, head of Roush Fenway, says if Danica Patrick really wants to make it in NASCAR, she has to be 'full-time, every day' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  And why hasn't she gotten in a NASCAR stocker somewhere already this summer?
  "I don't really think it's about her getting in a car and driving it around a track by herself to see if she likes it," Smith says. "I think it's about being in the competition -- with 42 other people around you and mixing it up."
  And then there's the financial side to all this, and it appears Smith has not been pleased with the financial terms Patrick and her agents have laid out.
  "When you have to reach into your pocket and lay out $1 million, or $2 million, $5 million, $8 million, $10 million….per year….and not know that you've got a reasonable chance to get something in return, that's very tough," Smith says.
   "I think the 'brand' part (of a marketing program with Danica Patrick) will be excellent.
    "But when you make these investments in your Nationwide program…..and if she doesn't like it, you'd be left with a lot of lost money.
   "So everybody's plans have to match up.
   "I'm really excited for her and our sport that she seems to have found a place that will give her plan a try.
   "But our approach, and plan, obviously didn't sync up with the limitations we had to work with.
   "It's a conundrum she's faced with – first, she has to have the confidence she can walk away completely from the IRL and come to NASCAR and give it 100 percent here…and if it didn't work out, then walk back.
   "But she'd have to be willing to possibly give up millions of dollars of income, without being certain she would actually like this kind of racing. She doesn't know; she wants to find out.
   "What we're talking about is 'full-time, every day.'
   "My impression is she wants to see what it's like in these cars, and that that 'experiment' has to work around the schedule she has (in the IRL). For her camp, this is a test, to see if she wants to make the transition.
   "We would like to be part of helping her career along. I think that has a lot of benefits for us and for the sport. But we have to do that in a way that is responsible for us."
    Smith says, in his view, Patrick should have the confidence to bit the bullet and "dive in right now, full-bore" to NASCAR, "where you can make twice the money and have a career that lasts twice as long.
   "That's her call."
   Ty Norris, general manager for Michael Waltrip Racing, has had meetings with Patrick and her agents too, and he says he and Waltrip would like to have more: "Over the last two to three weeks a lot of the Danica Patrick story has become clearer. It is interesting to be in the game....because we know the impact she's going to have on this sport. It's going to be tremendous.
    "You have to look at two things with Danica: One, the driver, the other, the off-track opportunities. And she brings a lot in both areas.
   "So it would foolish for any operation not to at least sit down and see what the opportunities are.
    "There are a lot of off-track opportunities with Danica that are more than just marketing and PR.
    "She knows she's got a tremendous number of options (in NASCAR).
   "It appears to us she is still dedicated to the IRL for a period of time…which creates a challenge for a NASCAR organization, to figure out how it might work over the next couple of seasons. Like the month of May….
   "But we are motivated to see if there are any opportunities. Our priority on the Nationwide side is Trevor Baynes; so we're putting a lot of effort into him. And we also have very clear ideas of how a Danica Patrick program could work for us – Martin Truex wants to run some Nationwide races, and so do Michael and Ryan Truex will be able to run some Nationwide races at the end of next year. So if Danica wants to run some Nationwide races, with a team that is already locked in (by points), we have that situation. One of her requests is for a (Nationwide) with points; you'd be setting her up to fail, without having a team with points, and having no testing. (Stewart himself has no Nationwide or Truck team, but Harvick has top-ranked teams on both circuits.)
  "Now to say we're ready to push the button and make that happen, there are a lot of ifs, ands and buts.
   "But it could work like that.
    "You would have to respect her primary goal (the IRL)…and if we could do that, and make it fit into our game plan, we would pursue it with a lot of vigor."

    Tony Stewart: the inside track on Danica? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



"I think it's about being in

"I think it's about being in the competition -- with 42 other people around you and mixing it up."

Bingo. I'm looking forward to seeing her get out of a Cup car after mixing it up with a pack at speed. The look on her face will be the clue. Look at Montoya, the guy thrives on the action, passing people at Atlanta by threading the needle while claiming to be points racing!

Great point -- the face. I

Great point -- the face. I remember at Talladega a few years back when things were really crazy, you could see fear in the faces of these drivers. Heck, I even remember at least two NASCAR champions being clearly shaken.
And, hey, JPM! that was a cool move, wasn't it? what got into him -- must be trying to impress the new Chevy boss...

Another interesting factor is

Another interesting factor is that Danica's two main sponsors, Boost Mobile and Go-Daddy.com have close connections to NASCAR. Boost Mobile is the pre-paid arm of Sprint (owned by Sprint) and Go-Daddy is Jr's sponsor in Nationwide (plus a bit with Cup). Both companies would love to have their big spokesperson with NASCAR. This all points to Mike being right on with his analysis (Danica signs with Stewart and runs Nationwide for Jr's Go-Daddy team, all part of the Hendrick umbrella). Given this may be the golden opportunity for Danica with every factor in her favor (including her age relative to having children allowing the transition to nascar first, a factor not applicable to male drivers)and with the blessing and deep pockets of the France family behind her, it is hard to believe that Danica would pass on a Nascar try out.

Why the mania for Danifraud?

Why the mania for Danifraud?

I'm still unable to figure out what anyone sees in a driver who does not have much talent, does less with more in IRL than anyone, isn't bringing anything in the way of attention or sponsorships to that series, and shows little in the way of temperment to be able to race.

For no more than she has won

For no more than she has won in the IRL, there sure is a lot of hype over her. With Villeneuve's flop and Hornish's struggles, the last thing Cup needs is another seat taker from the IRL. Everyone points to Montoya, but he had lots of wins in other series before coming to Cup. My guess is that we'll be getting another Junior (and I don't mean Johnson): a big name with not much talent.

why ? i repeat..why do you

why ? i repeat..why do you people in the media have such a knack for picking out the most untalented drivers to talk about ?
case in point, Dale Jr.
and now your onto danica patrick. come up with a better story, or yet talk about something thats really going to make a differance in professional auto racing.
how about this, write down this date in history, 9/29/2009.
then in one year ask yourself if danica was even worth writing about.

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