I’ve been having an internal debate over what to write about Danica Patrick’s move from IndyCar to NASCAR and I’m not sure if I’ve still made up my mind on how to handle it so I apologize beforehand if this is a rambling stream of consciousness post. In recent years my opinion of Danica Patrick has changed much as my opinion of NASCAR has changed. I wanted to be a Danica fan, I even tried to be a Danica fan but much as my opinion on NASCAR soured, so has my opinion of Danica Patrick.
I have always been interested in female racers because I believe that motor sports is a sport where women can compete with men on an even footing. When she came to Atlantics, I was intrigued by her background in open wheel racing in the US and her foray into open wheel racing in Europe. She had the support of one of my favorite CART racers, Bobby Rahal. As she moved up into the IRL I was interested in how she would do in an oval series and continued to follow her career. I saw her as an upcoming American open wheel talent and considered myself a fan. I was impressed with how she adapted to the oval tracks and her successful runs at Indianapolis. When she eventually won a race on fuel mileage at Motegi, I didn’t begrudge her. There are plenty of drivers who have won races on fuel mileage as opposed to outright speed yet they didn’t receive near the grief that she did. Her modeling gigs with FHM magazine and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues didn’t bother me; if doing those was her choice and her boss didn’t disapprove then whose place was it to tell her not to? Besides, I happen to find her physically attractive.
As her career progressed, I began to find her unattractive in other ways, ways that truly count in racing. To me, she was gradually exposed a poor team player. There seemed to be considerable friction between she and her teammates at both the Rahal and Andretti teams. She has also exhibited the inability to work with her engineer and crew to improve her car throughout the course of the race (a trait she shares with her current team owner in NASCAR it should be noted). If the car starts off the race good, she is good to go. If the car goes off or doesn’t start handling well, she just doesn’t seem to be able to work with the team to improve the car, a trait that is required of a championship driver. I may be wrong here, but I also perceive that she is more concerned with marketing herself than developing herself as a racer; she has been far more successful at marketing herself than she has been at winning races. Isn’t that the point of motor sports, to win races and championships? When she began racing in NASCAR and finally announced that she was moving to NASCAR my first thought was that Danica is selling herself short. How many have heard her state her goal as winning the Indy 500, how many have seen the video of an interview as a young girl where she said she had space reserved on her trophy case for an Indianapolis 500 trophy? I think she’s giving up her dream and goal for more money and fame. Sadly that’s a common choice that modern athletes make.
Topping it all off is the way she is making her exit from IndyCar, she definitely doesn’t seem to be leaving on friendly terms; more than one writer has used the term “burning bridges.” She has been critical of IndyCar going to Motegi and used radiation and earthquake concerns as the reason during a conference call despite studies that have shown that radiation is not as big an issue as it has been made out to be (see this excellent post at OpenPaddock by @xorpheous, Doug Patterson for more information). I can more understand the fear of earthquakes, but IndyCar collectively, including Danica, should realize that the Japanese people live with that fear daily and realize that holding that final race is the least they could do for Honda and the Japanese fans that have supported the series through a lot of troubled times. I think Danica’s true issue with not wanting to go to Motegi is found in this quote, she simply just doesn’t want to race on road courses and this year has exhibited a lack of effort on them:
I guess it’s just …. We have compromised on the track, because we are racing on the road course and not the oval and IndyCar is not going back after this year anyway. It just seems like a lot of forced things to make it happen, but I’m just a driver and I show up where I’m supposed to show up.
Another statement she’s made doesn’t quite seem to ring true either:
I’m a fan, too. I’m a consumer. I love to see fights. I love to see crashes,” she said. “I love to see drivers being honest with their emotions and letting everyone know what they think
I’m not sure what she’s been watching lately, but it is the IndyCar drivers who have seemed to be more honest with their emotions (Will Power’s double bird to the officials at New Hampshire!?). As far as crashes go, some of IndyCar’s street courses have seemed to be more like crash fests than NASCAR races. I hate to see, though, that she is equating crashes to racing; she’s adopting NASCAR’s style of pandering to the lowest common denominator. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, though, was her comment about Brazilians in IndyCar:
Oddly enough, I would say that the older I get, the more aggressive I get. Is that weird? I didn’t start like a Brazilian driver and go out ‘Whoooo’ and hit everything and figure it out later. I started out much more patient with other drivers and patient with myself and respectful.
To which Tony Kanaan (for my non motor sports fan readers, one of IndyCar’s Brazilian racers) replied on Twitter:
She didn’t start like a Brazilian because she is not capable of such a thing. Never will be.
I think Bill Potter from SB Nation has rebutted Danica’s Brazilian driver comment the best:
Forget the fact that the driver Patrick appears to be targeting is Venezuelan (E.J. Viso); if she is truly targeting the driving style of Brazilians, Patrick is plainly wrong. In the last 30 years, Brazilian drivers have captured six Indianapolis 500s and five CART/INDYCAR series championships, not to mention the achievements of drivers like Ayrton Senna and Rubens Barrichello in Formula 1. Two Brazilians currently in the series, Helio Castroneves (three Indianapolis 500 wins) and Tony Kanaan (2004 IndyCar series champion), have accomplished more on the track in their careers than Danica has in her seven years.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m not one that wishes she would stay in IndyCar. I’m also not one that thinks her exit will gravely damage IndyCar. Sure it might initially take some attention away but those that abandon IndyCar for NASCAR in the wake of her exit weren’t IndyCar fans to start off with, they are Danica fans. Her exit may be good for IndyCar in the long run by diversifying the fan base amongst other drivers. IndyCar has to prove that it is more than just a one personality draw.
I just wish I understood her decision to talk down the sport that helped make her a household sports name.