Danica Patrick: History Says Her Racing Future Is Lose/Lose Situation

No NameAnalyst IApril 24, 2011

The Decision, Part Two?
The Decision, Part Two?

In just another week or two, speculation will begin to grow about the future of Danica Patrick. Will she make the move everyone expects her to and switch to NASCAR full-time next year, or will she shock us all and stay with IndyCar?

There have been many drivers who have made the transition from Open Wheel racing to NASCAR, but only a few have actually had success.

Most of the drivers who made the transition already had major success in Open Wheel racing. Danica has one win to her name in the series, which came in Japan when the leaders had to pit for fuel.

The most notable drivers to cross over include legendary names like AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Foyt was the Richard Petty of IndyCar, but also had great success in stock cars. He has seven Cup wins to his credit, including the 1972 Daytona 500. He is the only driver to win the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Mario Andretti was a four-time CART Champion, a Formula One champion and a three-time winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring. In addition to winning the Indianapolis 500, Andretti also won the 1967 Daytona 500.

In terms of today's generation, Tony Stewart may be one of the most notable, when it comes to NASCAR success. In 1997, Stewart won the IndyCar Series Championship.

In the Cup Series in NASCAR, he has won two Championships, and a total of 39 races. Stewart has finished in the top 10 in the standings nine of his 10 seasons of full-time competition.

Juan Pablo Montoya has been making a slow but steady transition to NASCAR, with some success. Montoya spent two seasons in CART, winning 10 races in 1999, including the series Championship.

He won the 2000 Indianapolis 500, then moved to Formula One, where he finished sixth or better in each of his five seasons. In 2003, he won the Monaco Grand Prix and six other series races.

As of today, both Stewart (12th) and Montoya (ninth) are in the top 12 in points for the NASCAR Spring Cup Series.

Other successful Open Wheel drivers to have some success in NASCAR include Dan Gurney, Robby Gordon, Johnny Rutherford, John Andretti, Parnelli Jones, and Tim Richmond. AJ Allmendinger is also currently trying to prove himself.

While these drivers saw much different competition than today's drivers, it is still worth mentioning that the cars and tracks have also changed dramatically.

Tony Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, was one driver that many fans in Indiana hoped to see reach the IndyCar Series and have success.

Instead, he chose to jump the series entirely, going straight to NASCAR. Newman was the poster boy of Open Wheel racing fans in his early days of midgets and Champ cars.

In an interview last year, the Indiana native shared his feelings at the time; “I was always a big Rick Mears and A.J. Foyt fan, but I just never really wanted to do those type of cars. I just like stock cars.

"I only wanted to do that if that was what it took to get to NASCAR. Besides, the IndyCar owners were all going after those foreign drivers back then."

For Danica Patrick to make the transition, she is going to have to have success in NASCAR, unless she wants to be compared to the other drivers who couldn't make it.

Scott Speed, Sam Hornish Jr., Jacques Villeneuve, Dario Franchitti and Patrick Carpentier were all very successful in IndyCar, but were unable to make it work in NASCAR.

The problem for Danica is, it will be hard for her to come back to IndyCar if it doesn't work out.

Former Champion Dario Franchitti wasn't having success, and came back to IndyCar where he went on to win many more races, including the Indy 500 (again) and the past two series Championships.

Hornish continues to struggle, and lost his full-time ride in the Cup Series. He now runs a part-time schedule in the Nationwide series, and is virtually invisible to most fans. Danica could decide to try to come back, but with virtually no previous success at this point, why would she do that?

Danica will be faced with many challenges during this transition. Other drivers have talked about why it will be difficult for any Open Wheel driver to come over to the Cup Series.

It is very different because you can't be that aggressive, and you have to be patient. NASCAR races are not two-hour races like the IndyCar Series drivers are used to. You can't go for the throat and run as hard as you can the entire race.

You have to focus on conserving tires, staying awake, making many pit stops, all while not making contact with the wall or another car. Demanding more from the car than it is capable of giving can be one of many challenges to Open Wheel drivers.

The main argument is, if she can't beat any of the drivers in the IndyCar Series after all these years, how does she expect to beat Cup veterans like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards?

The fact is, she is probably just going there for the money and attention, which nobody can blame her for. It appears she isn't going to be winning a championship in either series, so why not go to the one that will give you more money and coverage?

Sadly, many fans look at Danica as the leader of the pack for women drivers. There are so many other talented drivers out there like Simona DeSilvestro, Catherine Legge, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Pippa Mann, Johanna Long and Ana Beatriz. These drivers may not get the same attention as Danica, but they have the talent.

While the media will be all over Danica in the coming months, they should realize the crop of talent in the IndyCar Series is growing, and has brought a lot more competition and excitement to the sport.


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