Does Danica Patrick Have a Future in NASCAR?

Eric Hobbs@@E_HobbsCorrespondent IJune 22, 2009

NEWTON, IA - JUNE 20:  Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Boost Mobile Motorola Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda during practice for the IRL Indycar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 on June 20, 2009 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton,Iowa.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Depending on how you view the question posed in this article's title, the answer could be both yes and no.

Yes, Danica Patrick could easily wind up in NASCAR.

No, she may not be able to amount to much.

Although there isn't much of a competition going on, NASCAR and the IRL are directly competing against each other. As it stands now, the IRL is struggling while NASCAR is flourishing, despite the poor economic climate.

The Daytona 500 is now the premier race in America, while the Indy 500 gets lower ratings than NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 that occurs a few hours after racing at the Brickyard concludes. The bottom line is that indy-car racing in America is far behind stock car racing.

Danica Patrick brought tons of attention to the IRL when she signed, when she won her first (and only) race, then again when she switched teams. NASCAR knows this, and realizes she may be single-handedly keeping her league afloat.

The logical answer for NASCAR is rumored to be in motion: simply buy Danica away from IRL. Top NASCAR executives have money to do this, and there surely will be a team willing to sign her, if for no other reason than the sponsorship money she would inevitably bring.

A struggling team would eat her up in a second. Some NASCAR officials will offer her so much money, without caring which team she signs with, just as long as it's a Sprint Cup team.

The most logical fit for Danica is in fact one of those teams that are struggling: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates would love to sign her. They would bring name recognition to the program, sponsorship money would not be an issue, and Danica would be surrounded by people familiar with open-wheel racing, including would-be teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.

There are two primary issues with her potential transition into a stock car. First, would she be willing to be patient? She would have to go through the entire process, starting in a series like ARCA and working her way up through the Nationwide Series or even the Camping World Truck Series. Montoya did this, and she would have to as well.

The problem lies in that she attracts so much attention that the media surrounding her would almost force her team to rush the process, hurrying her along into a Cup ride before she is truly ready.

The other problem is the dirty little secret that is not as obvious on the surface, but it is hands down the most critical point to consider.

Is Danica Patrick talented enough to make it in NASCAR?

Remember, she has but a single win in her IRL career, that coming at Motegi in 2008, and she has never been a serious threat for the IRL championship. Those are not the stats of someone ready to take the step up (don't kid yourself into thinking the drivers are equal) into NASCAR.

The reason Montoya is enjoying moderate success and has won a Sprint Cup race is because he simply is one of the most talented drivers alive. Danica Patrick is not, and consequently would not be successful.

The bottom line is simple: Danica in NASCAR would get tons of attention for her and NASCAR, it would doom IRL, and whichever team she joined would have eager sponsors and lots of attention for about a season and a half.

After that point, however, people would grow impatient with her lack of progress, she would be rushed to accommodate sponsors and fans, and the entire process would ruin her career.

If Danica Patrick wants to enjoy a long and successful career in auto racing, her best bet is to stick with IRL instead of creating a circus by joining NASCAR.