IRL IndyCar Series Kicks of the Season with Another Danica Controversy

Tony CastaneiraAnalyst IApril 9, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 3:  Danica Patrick drives the #7 Motorola Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda during practice for the IRL IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 3, 2009 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Once again Danica Patrick has managed to steal the spotlight from the rest of the IndyCar Series field. Since her arrival to Indycars Ms. Patrick has been a media lighting rod. Her actions off the track have, in many ways, overshadowed her on-track accomplishments.

Temper tantrums, physical altercations, and bikini modeling has helped secure her place as the IRL’s most recognizable face.  Hardly a day goes by where her name does not create a polarizing effect among racing fans and racing drivers alike.

For some, she is the face and future of the series as she brings attention to their favorite sport that otherwise would be ignored by the non-racing media.  They look at her as a ground-breaking athlete who has not only crossed the gender barrier but tore it down. 

For others she is a spoiled, media darling who has used her gender to blur the fact she is not that good.

Whichever side of the debate you land on there is no denying she brings much needed attention to the sport.

This brings us to the latest Danica incident.

Forget the IndyCar Series started their season in St Petersburg with Ryan Briscoe earning a victory for Penske or the amazing podium finishes of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Justin Wilson. 

What is all abuzz on the Internet was the latest Danica Patrick incident.  This time it involves IndyCar Series rookie Raphael Matos.

Notice I have been saying “incident” not accident.  With Ms. Patrick it is never only what happens on the track but her actions afterward, which combine into an “incident.”

The latest Danica incident happened mid-race on the streets of St. Petersburg. 
Matos attempted a pass after Patrick had been slowed up while passing a back-marker on the tight course. 

Using his momentum, “Rapha” dove inside the Andretti Green Racing Dallara of Ms. Patrick but she maintained her racing line, which caused them to come together sending them both hard into the barriers. 

At first view it appears that Matos was at fault as Ms. Patrick had maintained her line. The VERSUS Network did an excellent job of following the incident, with various camera angles of the incident including an in-car shot from Danica’s car.

This is when what should have been just another racing accident turned into a “Danica Incident.” 

Once they extricated themselves from the battered wreckage, Patrick tapped Matos on the helmet as if to say "Use your head."  Then the two had what could best be called a lively discussion while they waited for their ride back to pits.

Danica has a history of being “physical" with other drivers who dare to be involved in a wreck with her. 

Jaques Lazier in the 2005 Fontana race and Dan Wheldon at Milwaukee in 2007 have both felt her well publicized wrath. 

Some see Patrick as a “feisty" woman who won’t allow herself to be pushed around by anyone.  Many see her as a girl who hides behind her gender, knowing no one will dares to respond physically with a female.

Having spent numerous times conversing with Matos, I can assure you if Danica had been a man he would have sternly if not physically, communicated his displeasure with the “tap.”

Afterwards VERSUS showed an apparently incredulous Matos explain his side of the story to the obviously incensed Ms. Patrick, and most were quick to side with the Andretti Green Racing driver.

After further review, I would have to differ. 

Danica was plodding along in ninth place and was not in contention for a podium. Matos was closing fast and saw a chance to move up when Danica was slowed trying to lap a much slower Stan Barrett.  Entering the turn, Rapha dove to the inside while Ms. Patrick maintained her line, which led to both ending up in tire barriers.

Raphael Matos attempt at a pass was the kind of ambitious and a hasty move for the rookie to make.  The corner is a difficult, but not an impossible place to make a pass.  Being a street course, drivers have to jump at any opening that presents itself so they can move up the leader board.

Danica is entering her fifth season as an IndyCar Series driver and made a questionable decision that a racer with her experience should not have made. 

Realizing the car didn’t have the speed of the leaders that day, an experienced driver would have used pit strategy to move up and kept clear of trouble to bring home the car and most importantly, earn valuable points. 

Instead Danica, who admits seeing Matos in her mirrors and yet refused to give an inch, received far fewer points and close to $100,000 in damage to her Motorola sponsored Dallara

So there you go.  Another incident involving Danica Patrick that has drawn much more fan and media interest than it would have if it had happen to other drivers.

Don’t believe me? 

On that very same lap Vitor Meira ran into the back of Alex Tagliani giving the Conquest car a puncture and Mario Moraes was punted out by Hideki Mutoh. 

Are you talking about those on-track accidents?  Do you even remember?