Post-Danica: IndyCar Enters Era of Uncertainty

Enrique MoralesContributor ISeptember 6, 2009

LEXINGTON, OH - AUGUST 07:  Danica Patrick, driver of the Boost Mobile/Motorola Andretti Green Racing, during practice for the IRL IndyCar Series The Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 7, 2009 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Going, going, gone.

Danica Patrick's IndyCar career in a nutshell, if you were curious as to what that was all about.

The world of Indy racing breathed a sigh of relief when the female face of the sport confirmed she would return to the struggling league in 2010, but it was all too soon.  Sure, Danica will be in the sport for one more year. After that, well, it appears it will be all NASCAR all the time for the princess of open-wheel racing.

Like her or not, Danica has defined IndyCar since her meteoric rise in 2005, nearly winning her first Indianapolis 500. Though Danicamania has died down significantly since her rookie season, Patrick remains the most popular driver in the IRL, and one of the only ones the average person has heard of.

While the IRL still has another season to think of where to go next, the issue of Danica's departure remains urgent for the declining sport.

Perhaps the Indy Racing League was smart in taking advantage of the one thing they had that NASCAR didn't when they invested so much in making Danica's presence known. Unfortunately it went too far, with personalities and names overshadowing the actual sport.

Racing should be about racing. Cars, on a track, competing for the win. The IRL chose to focus on drivers instead, trying to make sure we all knew who Danica, Hélio, and Marco were.

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What's left without Danica? A tired old spec car few seem to be interested in, an okay-at-best road racing product, and a television partner that just lost 24 percent of its homes.

While Danica's move to stock cars could open the door for the IRL brass to get their priorities in line, it does not appear common sense will prevail, as the latest idea from Speedway, Ind., pertains to moving the start time of the 500 up to 11 a.m. to draw NASCAR drivers.

Not only does that continue the flawed policy of promoting names, the names it would promote aren't even full-time competitors in the sport. It just draws attention to NASCAR, and creates a lose-lose for Indy. 

If the stock car drivers win, it reflects negatively on the difficulty of IndyCar and the quality of their drivers, and if they fail, the NASCAR fans will just turn the race off and decide it's not worth watching.

Just another short-term solution to a long-term problem.

It's a trend the IRL is going to have to break.

Going, going, gone.

It already defines Danica's future.  Now, the Indy Racing League officials have to take measures to make sure it doesn't define their own.

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