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Will Danica Patrick go to NASCAR? If so, will she succeed?

Posted by chadmusselman on August 9, 2009

DanicaThis is the last year of Danica Patrick’s contract with Michael Andretti, which means she will be a free agent after the IRL season. Obviously there have been drivers that transitioned from open-wheel cars to NASCAR. Tony Stewart (1997 IRL Champion) is probably the most successful, but Juan Montoya (1999 CART champion, won several races in F-1) has shown a lot of improvement and looks to make the chase this season. There have been others not as fortunate though. Patrick Carpentier (CART Rookie of the year, top points finish of 3rd) and Sam Hornish Jr. (3-Time IRL Champion) have had a hard time transitioning to NASCAR and being competitive.

So what does this mean for Danica? As you can see from the sample of open-wheel drivers mentioned above, they were all successful and some of the top drivers in their circuits. Danica’s credentials aren’t nearly as impressive. 2009 is her 5th year in the IRL. Her best points finish was 6th last year, and she’s currently sitting 5th this season. She has 77 races under her belt, only 1 win, 16 top fives, and 45 top tens. 45 top tens may sound impressive, but consider that at most 33 cars start IRL races, and that’s only at the Indianapolis 500. All of the other races are lucky to have 27 drivers enter. Some don’t even have 20 cars, so finishing in the top 10 is equivalent to being 20th in NASCAR. I wouldn’t call that dominating.

If Danica does decide to go to NASCAR would she be willing to start out in the Truck or Nationwide series? Tony Stewart drove in the Nationwide series in part of three season before driving full-time in the Cup series. I don’t see Danica having the patience for that, even if it’s just for one season. It seems that she feels entitled to whatever she wants, and that she should be able to drive in the Cup series immediately.

Last year Danica was on “NASCAR Now” on ESPN and was asked about moving to NASCAR. She asked why she would want to drive in NASCAR when she has a good thing in the IRL? The host reminded her that there would be more money, exposure, and races in NASCAR. She sounded stuck up and not interested at all.

So, does that mean she won’t sign for a team in NASCAR? There are definitely teams out there that would welcome Danica given the marketing appeal and sponsorships she can bring in. I don’t think she will sign with a NASCAR team since she wouldn’t be the main attraction, and will have to start out in the Truck or Nationwide series, which means she may not make as much money in her first season.

If there is a team out there that signs Danica and allows her to race in the Sprint Cup series right away, don’t look for her to make a big splash. She probably wouldn’t accept an offer from a 2nd or 3rd tier team, so she would have good equipment, but still struggle. Stock cars are much heavier and harder to handle than open wheel cars. A year or two in the Nationwide series would help get her feet wet and learn how the cars handle, but that would mean she’d have to swallow some pride and admit she needs practice. I don’t see her doing that.

My prediction is that Danica will stay in the IRL where she knows she’ll be one of the stars and main attractions wherever she goes. If she went to NASCAR, the publicity would be there initially, but after a lot of mediocre finishes that would die down, and she’d turn into another average-at-best driver.

What do you think Danica will do? Leave a comment and let us know!

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