Should IndyCar Fans Pull For Danica?

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After the disastrous weekend that Danica Patrick had at Daytona this weekend, I noticed a flurry of tweets and comments throughout various IndyCar websites from fans taking great delight in Ms. Patrick’s misfortunes. As tempting as it may be to gloat, especially if Danica rubbed you the wrong way for the past seven seasons – if you are a true fan of the IZOD IndyCar Series, it might be best if Danica succeeds over there.

There is a long list of open-wheel drivers that have gone south to NASCAR, only to get their head handed to them. In the past twenty years, the IndyCar driver that has enjoyed the greatest amount of success is probably John Andretti. [UPDATE: yes, I'm well aware that I somehow omitted Tony Stewart and his accomplishments from this post. My e-mail and Twitter (@Oilpressureblog) accounts have been smoking over this. My apologies for a boneheaded omission.] Andretti had one career victory in CART- the 1991 season-opener at Surfer’s Paradise in Australia, which happened to be the debut of his new team Hall/VDS Racing. After losing his ride after the 1993 season, he dabbled in NASCAR and even tried his hand at Top Fuel in NHRA before moving full-time to NASCAR in 1995. Andretti amassed two NASCAR wins – the summer race at Daytona in 1997 and Martinsville in 1999.

Juan Montoya has also scored two NSCS victories, but they were both on road courses. Plus, more was expected from him after winning seven Formula One races, ten CART races, a CART championship and the Indianapolis 500. After Monday night, he can also claim victory over a jet-dryer.

Robby Gordon has run almost four hundred Sprint Cup races over the past nineteen years. In that time, he has collected three victories. I’m not sure that record meets anyone’s definition for success.

Going back much further, AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti both tried their hand at NASCAR – and won. They both own victories in the Daytona 500, but that was in the day when it was common for a driver to try multiple series within a season.

More recently, NASCAR has been the destination of some of the top names in IndyCar. The series champions for 2006 and 2007, Sam Hornish and Dario Franchitti respectively, both bolted for NASCAR in 2008. They both flopped miserably. There will be those who disagree with my assessment, but they must have a worse definition of “flop” than I do. Mercifully, Franchitti’s car ran out of money midway through the 2008 season. His results prior to the team folding were absolutely abysmal. That same season, Hornish could place no higher than thirteenth and was lucky to finish thirty-fifth. The next two seasons he finished twenty-ninth in 2009 and 2010. He is now considered fortunate to be able to run a complete Nationwide schedule for 2012.

Based on the NASCAR performance of Franchitti and Hornish – two drivers that carried elite status in IndyCar – the growing perception throughout NASCAR and its legion of blindly loyal fans is that IndyCar’s best can’t even carry a helmet in NASCAR. And as we have learned through the years with NASCAR – perception is reality.

From Michael Waltrip crowing that the Daytona 500 is America’s biggest race, to his brother Darrell claiming that Franchitti’s partial season in NASCAR is what led to his winning three straight IndyCar championships – casual racer fans hear this stuff and believe it. It’s no wonder that most sports fans today consider IndyCar to be totally irrelevant. With the NASCAR propaganda machine operating at full capacity, how could anyone think any different? Fortunately, even Danica acknowledged earlier last week that the Indianapolis 500 is a much bigger race than the Daytona 500. I’ll bet that didn’t go over so well with the NASCAR faithful.

So now comes Danica with her marketing armada. My problem with Danica was never her talent. I always considered her a better than average driver, who specialized in consistency, taking care of her equipment and bringing the car home in one piece. Like most die-hards, I simply resented the disproportionate airtime she got. I understood the novelty in 2005, when she was a rookie. But several years later, it got old listening to Marty Reid salivate every time the camera followed her while riding around in seventeenth place.

But I also recognize that losing her from the IZOD IndyCar Series is a tangible loss. I’m sure it helped other teams and drivers to land sponsorship deals when they could say that they would be racing in the same series with Danica Patrick. The name Danica has transcended sports. Casual fans didn’t know if she raced stock cars, IndyCars or whatever. They knew she was a racecar driver. Now that she’s gone from IndyCar; the casual fans that are coveted for their potential to be real fans, will probably never know she raced in IndyCar first – even if they know what IndyCar is.

But the NASCAR die-hards will know where she came from – the same series that produced Hornish and Franchitti – two drivers that excelled in IndyCar, but fell on their face in NASCAR. And don’t think for a minute that NASCAR doesn’t enjoy propagating the myth that IndyCars are much easier to drive than stock cars. That is why the NASCAR fans are all expecting her to fail – she only won once over there. Hornish and Franchitti had won championships and the Indianapolis 500 and they fell on their face. How can they expect any more out of Danica?

Some of the NASCAR hard cores are already growing tired of Ms. Patrick. I have a co-worker that is a true NASCAR fan. Even before the Bud Shootout, he was asking me why all the talk that week had been about Danica, Danica, Danica. He was sick of it already. I told him to get used to it – that’s what we’ve dealt with for the past seven seasons.

So – even though I’ve never been a real fan of hers, I’m pulling for Danica Patrick to succeed in NASCAR. If she does well, it eases the strong perception that IndyCar drivers are second-rate and don’t have the skill of NASCAR drivers. Maybe our series is behind NASCAR in marketing and driver’s name recognition, but from top to bottom – I’ll stack the talent level in the IZOD IndyCar Series up against NASCAR any day. The sheer speed and reflexes involved, coupled with the versatility required to succeed on all types of tracks, make IndyCar drivers stand out. If Danica Patrick can win in NASCAR, then she will do more to close the perception gap than anything else could. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what NASCAR had in mind.

George Phillips

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29 Responses to “Should IndyCar Fans Pull For Danica?”

  1. Most of the time you are right on the money, but todays post had a glaring omission…..Tony Stewart was not even mentioned when you were talking about past IndyCar drivers and how they did in NASCAR. Tony with 3 Cup Championships and is the hottest driver on the circuit right now was an IndyCar driver and champion before he joined NASCAR. He certainly deserves a shout-out.

    George, keep up the good work….I enjoy your blog!!

    • Oilpressure Says:

      What was I thinking? You are so correct! I must’ve been too tired from staying up and watching Daytona Monday night. Perhaps I’ve subconsciously purged those early IRL years from my brain. Whatever the case, not mentioning Tony Stewart was a glaring omission and I apologize. – GP

  2. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    George, I agree that it would be great if Ms Patrick can blaze another Indy to Tin Top trail, but I just wouldn’t get my hopes up. I feel as you do, that she has above average driving skills and a great deal of compettive drive, however, I have always felt that one of Danicas biggest negatives was her unwillingness to mix it up. This is why she typically can qualify fairly well but once race day comes and she is surrounded by her peers, she almost immediately begins her procession rearward. Generally when she finishes well it is not because she has battled for position, but rather that she has
    outlasted the others wrecking out in front of her. This was a tough weekend for her certainly, and it is not going to get any better for her or many other drvers if NASCAR continues to allow this asinine pack racing to continue.

  3. Danica won one race, driving for a pretty good team, in her Indycar career. I hope her record improves in Nascar.

    I do think there’s a perception in Nascar (the fans, not the drivers) that Indycar drivers aren’t very good. So I’d like to see Danica finish up front at some point. I think the learning curve is big, but she has good equipment and I think eventually she’ll do okay. It’s unrealistic to think she’ll come in and win anything right away. I wish her the best. After the race, she twittered she was having beer and eggs for breakfast, so she’s good in my book.

  4. A wise man once said life is too short to seek out NBA blogs to tell NBA fans how much you hate the NBA.

    Too bad my favorite IndyCar blog is telling me I should pull for the driver and series I hate the most.

    Good Riddance Danica.

    • I don’t think your backhanded reference to George’s NBA reference applies at all in this case. The NBA comment was about haters grousing NBA sites, while George is stating that it is in INDYCAR’s best interest for Danica to do well…a sentiment I happen to agree with.

      NASCAR is in a can’t-lose situation here. If Danica does well, they will be there to reap the benefits. If she falls on her face, it’s another chance to crap on INDYCAR and their drivers.

      Personally, I didn’t like the way Danica handled herself in INDYCAR – but it wasn’t due to her abilities. I just didn’t like her as a person…much the way I don’t like Kurt Busch as a person. But for the sake of the public perception of INDYCAR drivers, I hope she does well over there.

      • I don’t like Danica, never did from the moment she started hanging half her butt out of her drawers while trying to tell us she’s just like the boys.

        And I don’t give a rip what NASCAR thinks about IndyCar. Why do you care what NASCAR thinks of IndyCar?

        I’m looking forward to ignoring both subjects of this post. She’s gone, hopefully for good. Good Riddance.

        • Wow. You might consider having one less bowl of grumpy flakes for breakfast. As far as “looking forward to ignoring both subjects of this post”, when exactly are you going to start?

        • Bent Wickerbill Says:

          No one cares what NASCAR fans think… The point Geroge was trying to make is, if Danica does well, there may be some small portion of NASCAR fans that decide IC is worth a second look… This in turn might increase viewership and race attendance and afterall it is viewship and fans that this series desparately needs if it is going to make it for the long haul…
          It’s not a matter of whether you or anybody likes or dislikes Danica, her doing well in NASCAR could bode well for IC….

  5. Brian in NY Says:

    A couple of points I would like to add George. You also forgot Tim Richmond who left IndyCars because his mom thought they were too dangerous. Also, I can’t recall a NASCAR driver coming to INDYCAR and being successful. I know we get hung up about the drivers that didn’t find success over there, but the two series are totally different beasts. The other point is that INDYCAR needs to market itself not like NASCAR, but like F1.

    F1 which makes NASCAR look tiny has successfully marketed itself by focusing on the series and it’s historical identity. It doesn’t matter who is driving in F1 because it’s F1. Drivers come and go but the sport and it’s teams remain. NASCAR is all about promoting the driver first and Ms. Patrick fits in to that marketing plan perfectly. The issue for NASCAR is what will happen when drivers like Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt, Biffle, Kennseth, etc, etc retire. NASCAR needs to build up their drivers because the fans connect with them not the teams. Ms. Patrick doing poorly will hurt NASCAR and because of that I hope she crashes every race.

    INDYCAR needs to get away from trying to build fans for particular drivers and promote the historical element of it’s series. It should be showing on commercials images of past drivers with their present counterparts. Mario and Marco, Bobby and Graham, Jacques and Hinch, AJ and JR, etc, etc. Promote the history of the series and the teams like Penske and Ganassi. The average NASCAR fan may not know who Justin Wilson is but they know who Mario, Rick Mears, AJ Foyt and who Bobby Rahal were. Remind people about what was great about INDYCAR. It’s not about one driver in a bright green suit, but the 100 years of racing excitement.

    • I don’t know about marketing “like F1″. That’s bound to raise hackles somewhere, whether justified or not. I admit, I am definitely sympathetic to the notion of pushing the teams more than what’s seen in NASCAR (as an aside: I’d love to Pop Quiz a casual Cup car fan and ask “Who does [::random driver::] drive for”? I’d probably get answers like “Tide” and “Home Depot” before I’d get the actual team name (*giggle*)). And even do it more than what’s seen currently in Indycar. But at the same time, I don’t think I’d carry it to the F1 extreme. In times past, no one remembered “Penske” or “Ganassi” as much as they remembered Foyt and Andretti, and even before that drivers like Hill or Clark. I think Indycar can strike a great balance between overt individualism like what NASCAR exemplifies and Submit To The Machine practices like what we see in F1. I’d say that is Indycar’s best claim to stake.

      But yes, I do agree fully: Indycar cannot market itself in the same manner as NASCAR. You’ve hit it dead on target by saying “It’s not about one driver in a bright green suit, but the 100 years of racing excitement.” Indycar’s got a history that predates both NASCAR and Formula One, and that should be its strongest marketing point.

  6. I find it incredible to think that Cup car enthusiasts somehow believe that driving an open wheeler that goes 20 to 40 MPH faster during a race – requiring that much faster of a set of reflexes – and which is far more sensitive to the sort of casual contact that happens in NASCAR is somehow the province of lesser drivers. But well, that’s a conceit they can carry if they so wish.

    The thing is, I respect stock car racing. It must be insanely difficult to handle a car with lousy aerodynamics (compared to an open wheeler), twice the weight, relatively skinny tires, and tons of engine power and throw it around the tracks like they do. I would never call it more difficult and in need of more skilled drivers than open wheel – that’ll always be what I consider the top tier for driver skill – but it sure as hell isn’t *easy*. Yet those “casual” fans won’t return the favor and will continue to think NASCAR’s the Be All End All of driver skill rather than popularity.

    Oh well… that must be why they’re the “casual” fan.

    Regardless, I’d stack any open wheeler – especially Indy and F1 drivers – as well as a bunch of LeMans type drivers against any Cup car driver. And I’m not saying the NASCAR guys will come up short every time; rather, I’m saying that they’re all quite comparable. There’s skill all around, and it borders on arrogance for the “casual” NASCAR fan to refuse to acknowledge that.

    Those fans want to say that NASCAR drivers are superior? Stick Gordon or Johnson, Dale Jr., or Busch in an Indycar and see how they perform. They’ll perform well, don’t get me wrong, but it won’t be them and then rest of the field three car lengths behind. It’ll be even. And I’ll bet Stewart, Hornish, and even Montoya would testify to that.

  7. Product identification….. = fan following?

    Watching my first Daytona in a century, I was impressed with (grocery store products) sponsor idedntification on the race vehicles.

    Sponsor identification as in common every day products…. that children and yes adults can relate to.

    Granted the billboard size of tin tops offer more advertising space .. however, much could be done with regards to equivalent advertising to attract children (who grow up as long consumers & fans) to follow their favorite car i.e. as was done with Blockbuster advertising INDY Jones, Star Wars, etc.

    Corporate sponsor logos work well for adults… However, Cheerios, M & M candy….. work well for children – the future followers & supporters of racing.

    INDY Car has a measure of catching up to accomplish in this area..

  8. According to DW, Danica has already taught the open wheel lesson of taking your hands off the wheel in a crash to the stock car boys. I haven’t seen that before in NASCAR, but I saw that this past Monday night. Jimmy Johnson caught on pretty quick. I like Danica and I enjoyed watching her in the Nationwide races last year and I would love to see her win. However, I still pull for Sam Hornish in that series and I am a Tony Stewart guy in the Cup series. It is that open wheel thing I have.

  9. I don’t think any success Danica has in NASCAR will do anything for IndyCar. Her move to NASCAR has probably caused a 1000% increase in the number of IndyCar mentions among NASCAR media and fans (still a very low total number, however). But if she wins, NASCAR fans will give NASCAR the credit. They think of IndyCar like we think of Pluto … we recognize the term but it is way out there and we don’t really know what it is. My policy is always root for drivers you like. If you don’t like Danica, don’t root for her. If you do, do. Simple. Considering how her success may impact IndyCar just over-complicates things for me.

  10. I am not particularly interested in what the NasCar nation feels about IndyCar drivers, but I wish Danica well and I believe she will do well over there. I like Danica. On many occasions I have seen and listened to her interact with fans and I have never witnessed her be rude. She is particularly good with young fans. When she puts on her race face she becomes very focused and intense. That’s a good thing. That’s what you want in a race driver or any athlete.

    So JB above says he “hates Danica the most”. How can you “hate” any race car driver? Hate is a very strong word and should not be tossed around so easily.

    Besides, she was born in Wisconsin. What’s not to like?!

  11. As opposed to celebrating or hoping she fails, then “yes” I want her to do well.

    I happen to hold the opinion (despite knowing very little of her true personality) this style of driving is better suited to her anyway, which may lead her to more success.

    She has certainly already succeeded by getting top flight $$$, equipment, and crews in Cabland anyway, so that never hurts and her ability to ‘move the needle’ based on Nationwide Series TV ratings is certainly proven also. Plus anytime you can get Mike Joy or D-dubya, or others just to say “Indycar” is a plus in my book.

    On the whole, the best possible scenario which would give Indycar a bump would be if Danica succeeds beyond any expectation, anything less is marginal at best. This result unfortunately is also highly unlikely.

  12. Tony Stewart: IndyCar Champion! Hahahahaha I could create my own league and crown me champion and it would hold as much water.

  13. I could care less about Danica in Nascrap.I will not follow a driver to Nascrap no matter who they are. I am a race fan of many forms of racing but to follow a driver that goes to Nascrap… I will not. I was a fan of Sam Hornish until he went to Nacrap. All Danica wants is money and her brand and her love for INDY means nothing. I pull for drivers who are dedicated to the series that made them famous not the brand that buys the drivers like Nascrap.

  14. Danica lost me as a fan due to her bad disposition with the fans and other drivers. Her credibility is one race win. Tony ,Dario and Sam all were champions in IndyCar before they went to Nascrap. All three of them were belittled by the Nascrap announcers before they even raced. Now that Danica shows up all tha Nascrap people just love her with her one win. Go Danica one hit wonder.
    ]

  15. Mike Miller Says:

    I’d like to see the list of NASCAR drivers that have come to IndyCar and won races. I think you’ll see that the Indy drivers have been able to go NASCAR, reasonable adapt, win and sometimes dominate (Tony Stewart).

    Can you think of one NASCAR (origin being NASCAR) driver that has won an IndyCar race?

    I don’t root for Danica because she gave up her dream for money. She was already a rich woman.

    Money is stronger than dreams.

  16. james t suel Says:

    If you like her suport her, if not dont! Remember no nascar driver ever in history came to openwheel an won! Some tried at INDY AND SOME A SEASON OR TWO ,NOWINS.

  17. I hate to stereotype, but NASCAR fans don’t know their *sses from a hole in the ground. Using any cross-over drivers’ success, or lack thereof, as indication that driving one type of car is tougher than the other is preposterous. The truth is that driving an IndyCar is tougher – period. No power steering, incredible variation in car handling based on air temperature, track temperature, wind, and the movements of the car in front of you, no driver cooling system, and no tolerance for incidental contact. Plus, it’s faster, which exacerbate all of the above characteristics (you’d still have the same issues at NASCAR’s leisurely 190mph).

    Someone else brought it up, but it bears repeating. Show me the NASCAR drivers who crossed over to open-wheel and kicked *ss? I can’t think of a single one. 99% of them won’t even dare try it. I also don’t see any former NASCAR drivers “retire” into IndyCar. Hell, as highly skilled as F1 is, Ruben Barrichello’s wife didn’t want him in IndyCar because oval racing is deadly. IndyCar racing scares the sh*t out of NASCAR drivers. Hell, if NASCAR was so refined, why did you have some slackjaw driver tweeting during the Daytona 500? WTH?!

    Rooting for Danica to do well so that it reflects well on IndyCar is simply validating an already-flawed logic. I hope she does well because she brought the spotlight back to American open-wheel, so it’s out of gratitude that I wish her good tidings. I think she will do well, though. She put her car on the pole last weekend, and if it weren’t for the wrecks associated with pack racing, she’d probably be doing a lot better.

    But the shear sexism associated with NASCAR and its fans, coupled with a general ineptitude, I worry for her mental health…she’s already getting far more unfair flack just for being a woman than she ever got in IndyCar.

  18. I believe that Dania did a credible job for Andretti Green and they should be recognized for giving her an opportunity to drive in Indy competition . As with any job field , there’s always the urge to do something new . I give her credit for jumping into the waters of NASCAR ! “The good old boys” may learn something ; I’m sure Danica will too . She has the guts to step into the rough and tumble sort of driving that is NASCAR competition . Go Danica !

  19. Sad time in history when all of us here are talking about a person who in her professional career has just ONE WIN. The only reason we are talking at all is because this person is a female……and to me it should be bacause of her talent and sportsmanship attitude. No none of the above it just the way she looks and like she said at INDY , it’s not my fault……………bulshit. Sad sad stuff to hear and witness. Funny that Sam Hornish was running good and leading laps in the nationwide race until he got hit from behind and no discussions about that…….huh. All about princess pony.

  20. billytheskink Says:

    The list of drivers who drove in NASCAR Cup before driving for a stint (or race) in IndyCar over the last 20 years consists of:

    Stanton Barrett
    Larry Foyt
    Steve Kinser
    John Andretti
    Robby Gordon
    Tony Stewart
    Dario Franchitti
    A few others I’m sure are there but could not come up with.

    These names only meet the criteria in the strictest sense (racing in NASCAR, then racing in IndyCar… whether for the first time or not). Stanton Barrett is probably the best parallel to what Danica is doing, and he is not a good parallel at all.

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