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Random Lugnuts: Danica in NASCAR

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Danica Patrick What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
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Random Lugnuts: Danica in NASCAR

Bill Crittenden
September 5, 2009

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So, according to NASCAR.com Tony Stewart thinks Danica Patrick will eventually race in NASCAR.

With NASCAR's popularity, money and opportunities, it could be a good career move to make, provided she feels she can spare a year or two of her career to race in the Nationwide Series.  But before you make room on the shelf for a new die cast, there are a LOT of issues to consider:

Risk vs. Reward:  Her career may be on the line.  Danica will be 28 years old just after the 2010 NASCAR season starts.  If she races two years in the Nationwide Series, that will make her 30 just after she starts her rookie year in Cup.  She will sacrifice one, if not two or possibly three, prime racing years to make a switch that may not work out for her (remember Dario Franchitti?).  If she races two years in Nationwide, two years in Cup, and it doesn't work out, she'll be returning to IRL four years behind in knowledge, four years out of sight and out of mind of IRL fans (those that didn't follow her to NASCAR anyway), and trying to get her career restarted at the age of 32.  And with Milka Duno driving and Sarah Fisher as an owner, she won't have being the only woman in the series to market herself, and there's only so long a woman can do the type of commercials GoDaddy.com airs after the age of 30.

Will her personality be a help or a hindrance? It has been well documented that Danica's personality at the track is hyper-competitive, which can help a driver succeed by pushing her to work harder, but there's more.  Her driving style is all take, there is no give.  She has a very short fuse and many doubt she can really transition well to the give and take of "rubbin' is racin'."  How well will she handle the traffic of Bristol or Martinsville or getting hung out to dry at Talladega?

Off the track, she demands respect as someone who has earned her way to the top level of her chosen form of motorsport, and in the IRL paddock she is someone who has raced and won in places most other NASCAR drivers haven't even vacationed, but to the Nationwide or Cup fans she's just another newcomer who hasn't traded paint at the short tracks and worked her way up the "right way."

Where's she gonna drive?  Currently, Danica drives for Andretti Green, one of the top teams on the IRL side along with Penske and Ganassi.  Unless Danica Patrick has a set plan and an open spot ready for her after a year or two in Nationwide, created by essentially handing a car and team over to a lame-duck driver for a full season or signing with a Cup team that can create a team for her when she's ready to move up, she could give up superstar status in the IRL for finishing twenty-fifth every week for a second rate team.

Her connection in Tony Stewart could be the way to Cup racing in a competitive car, taking the second option of adding a third Stewart-Haas car when she's ready for the Cup.  There is also a potential open spot with Hendrick, as Mark Martin will eventually have to retire.  Aside from those two positions, there aren't a whole lot of options that wouldn't be a big step down from her current status.

For a cautionary tale here, look to Australia's Marcos Ambrose.  A tremendously talented driver in his home country's top series, he placed 8th, 3rd, 1st, 1st, and 3rd in the season's standings in his five years in V8 Supercars.  Yet after moving to NASCAR in 2006 without a specific plan that had him landing a ride with a Cup team, he is finally in the Cup Series...driving for JTG Daugherty Racing.  While Marcos' friendly, upbeat personality allows him to enjoy the success of bringing little JTG/D all the way up to 17th in the points, I doubt Danica's ultra-competitive personality would allow her to accept the occasional top ten finish as anything but failure.

What about unfinished business?  Remember that Dario Franchitti wasn't going to leave Indy cars until he'd actually won the Indianapolis 500, and as soon as he did he was eyeing the door?  Danica Patrick has won just one race in the IRL, and that, at Motegi, wasn't even in the United States let alone at the hallowed Brickyard.  When she led laps and finished fourth in her first 500, everyone assumed that eventually she would become the first woman to win the most historic race in American motorsports.

To move to NASCAR would give her the opportunity to win the Daytona 500, and to be the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup race, but she may well be walking away from ever winning the Indy 500.  If money and sponsorship are the most important factors, NASCAR is the safe bet these days, but if she was thinking about how she wanted to be remembered when she was done racing, then Which one is more important to her:  Daytona or Indianapolis?  Or is the answer, "whichever pays more?"

Is she jumping ship at the wrong time?  A few weeks ago, I watched an IRL race in Kentucky.  Without getting into a whole race summary, let me just say it was the most exciting race I've watched in a long, long time.  Last week I watched the IRL event at Joliet, and it was even better than Kentucky's.  This is thanks to changes in the aerodynamics of IRL cars and the addition of the Push-to-Pass feature taken from CART cars.  This comes at a critical moment in the history of American racing:  NASCAR has not only passed up Indy racing in popularity, but has done so in such decisive fashion that NASCAR is contemplating cutting the race at Indianapolis.  However, the reunion of IRL and CART, combined with the new rules changes that have resulted in truly epic racing action in the only two races they have been in effect, can't come at a worse time for NASCAR, which is struggling to fill once packed grandstands and make passing possible with the new Car of Tomorrow.  While no one thinks that IRL can overtake NASCAR again in popularity, a couple decades ago nobody thought NASCAR could possibly become more popular than Indy racing in America outside of the South.

...And now that you've made it this far (I realize this has been a long article) you're rewarded with a little comedy, the Top Ten things Danica will say in her first year in NASCAR:

10.  What's this thing sticking up out of the floor?

9.  I'm tired of guys bumping my car just so they can say they rubbed Danica Patrick's rear end.

8.  What is King Richard the King of?

7.  Do you really turn right to go left?

6.  If single digit numbers are so popular, how come nobody's taken the number three?

5.  Where's fifth gear?

4.  The pit stops would go faster if you'd just change all four tires at the same time.

3.  I can't get around Kyle, why can't this tank have Push-to-Pass?

2.  If it's called the "Car of Tomorrow," why does it still have a carburetor?

1.  I know a lot about NASCAR.  I've watched it on television, of course.  ESPN.  The coverage is excellent, you'd be surprised at how much you can pick up.

Update, September 6:  From ESPN.com, Source: Danica to try NASCAR in '10

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