Danica: Plusses and Minuses

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Danica, Plusses and Minuses

There’s lots of speculation regarding Danica Patrick’s move to a full-time career in NASCAR. How will she do and what will it mean to the sport and to other women drivers. So let’s look at some indicators that may predict how it will play out.

First, based upon a comparison of her talent and results in IndyCar racing to the talent and results of Sam Hornish Jr. in that series, it doesn’t bode well for Danica in stock car racing at the Cup level. Arguably, she has a great support group around her that many drivers could only dream about having. However, the same could be said for Hornish when he came into NASCAR with Team Penske. Hornish is a driver who had the talent to win eight races in his last 64 starts in IndyCar and get 32 tops fives in those 64 starts (50%) plus an IndyCar championship, yet he has struggled so much in a Cup car. In contrast, Danica managed only one fuel mileage win in 117 starts and no higher a finish in the IndyCar season point standings than fifth. In addition, she managed only 20 top five finishes in those 117 races. With those facts in mind,, why would anyone think Danica’s results will be better than those achieved by Hornish. Her background in racing mirrors Hornish’s in so many ways. They both came up as youngsters running go-karts primarily on road course layouts, not ovals.

So why all the hype? This writer wonders whether she would even have the Cup opportunity if her name was Daniel Patrick or if she was 40 lbs. overweight and homely. In racing today though, bringing sponsorship dollars to a team can often mean more than talent. There are opportunities in series of all types that are available for “funded” drivers. She has a huge fan base and abundant commercial appeal because of her appearance and that means she brings big dollars with her to her NASCAR team. Undoubtedly she will also bring new fans to the sport, those who will attend her races and those who will tune in to watch her on TV.

But what will her long-term impact be if she ends up being a mid-pack driver with even less success than Hornish? In the end, her level of success or lack thereof may have a huge impact on owners considering taking chances on other female drivers. There is no question in my mind that there will be a female driver in Victory Lane in Cup racing within the next ten years. However, I believe it is highly unlikely Danica will be that female and, if she struggles as much as I think she will, she may delay the opportunity for a female driver with more talent and a higher likelihood of being successful in Cup racing to get that chance.

Thus in the plus column, I see Danica being a popular driver who is good for NASCAR in terms of ratings and marketing possibilities. The minus column includes her career in stock cars being detrimental to other more talented female drivers who don’t offer the same package of sex appeal and good looks she offers. Time will tell, of course, but the truth is it is that package that gives her this opportunity more than her talent level.

Topics: Danica Patrick

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  • djordan3223

    So I take it you are only considering Hornish’s IndyCar career when he ran for Penske? Hornish ran for 8 years in the IndyCar series for 3 teams (PDM, Panther Racing, & Penske). He raced in 116 races, amassing 3 series titles, 19 race wins & 27 podium finishes (2nd or 3rd place). Yes, I realize this makes it look even worse that Hornish couldn’t cut it in Cup, but I wanted to put all the hard facts as a comment to your story. Danica is a huge marketing machine, that is a fact. She will sell a ton of merchandise. But I honestly believe she will not bring in higher tv ratings or more attendance at nascar races this year. Most of the IndyCar fan base is pleased to see her leave. She has overshadowed the other great drivers in her former series. There are at least 10 full time IndyCar drivers that have more wins than Danica had. But I do think she will have more success than Hornish has had in nascar because she will drive for a better team(s) than Hornish & I think nascar will want (make) her to succeed. Her strength is oval racing, which is a surprise since she got her start road racing in the junior european circuits. She also does a very good job of staying out of trouble. I just don’t think she can push a car (IndyCar or nascar) to its limits. My prediction is she will finish between 10th to 15th in nationwide points this season.

  • djordan3223

    So I take it you are only considering Hornish’s IndyCar career when he ran for Penske? Hornish ran for 8 years in the IndyCar series for 3 teams (PDM, Panther Racing, & Penske). He raced in 116 races, amassing 3 series titles, 19 race wins & 27 podium finishes (2nd or 3rd place). Yes, I realize this makes it look even worse that Hornish couldn’t cut it in Cup, but I wanted to put all the hard facts as a comment to your story. Danica is a huge marketing machine, that is a fact. She will sell a ton of merchandise. But I honestly believe she will not bring in higher tv ratings or more attendance at nascar races this year. Most of the IndyCar fan base is pleased to see her leave. She has overshadowed the other great drivers in her former series. There are at least 10 full time IndyCar drivers that have more wins than Danica had. But I do think she will have more success than Hornish has had in nascar because she will drive for a better team(s) than Hornish & I think nascar will want (make) her to succeed. Her strength is oval racing, which is a surprise since she got her start road racing in the junior european circuits. She also does a very good job of staying out of trouble. I just don’t think she can push a car (IndyCar or nascar) to its limits. My prediction is she will finish between 10th to 15th in nationwide points this season.

  • HoosierRacer

    djordan3223,

    Thanks for the comment and, of course, you are correct about Sam’s total career in Indy cars. The whole point of the story is that Danica’s hype may lead to better expectations than her talent can deliver. If she finishes in the top 10-15 in Nationwide points as you predict, I will consider that a successful year for her. If she can’t, with that team and the support of so many, I think it will be a good indication of her future. So where do you predict Hornish, Jr. will end up in Nationwide points? If my theory is correct, that he has more talent, coupled with his years of experience in the stock cars, he should finish much higher than Danica. Could be a very interesting season for both.

    However, in terms of her impact on TV ratings and race attendance, remember that she was the most popular driver in IndyCar for 6 consecutive seasons. I still see her bringing some of that fan base to follow her NASCAR career. Living in Indiana, I have seen so many new fans in IndyCar from young men in the 17-35 year age range to young girls from age 6 on up becoming avid Danica followers. We’ll know the answer soon.

  • HoosierRacer

    djordan3223,

    Thanks for the comment and, of course, you are correct about Sam’s total career in Indy cars. The whole point of the story is that Danica’s hype may lead to better expectations than her talent can deliver. If she finishes in the top 10-15 in Nationwide points as you predict, I will consider that a successful year for her. If she can’t, with that team and the support of so many, I think it will be a good indication of her future. So where do you predict Hornish, Jr. will end up in Nationwide points? If my theory is correct, that he has more talent, coupled with his years of experience in the stock cars, he should finish much higher than Danica. Could be a very interesting season for both.

    However, in terms of her impact on TV ratings and race attendance, remember that she was the most popular driver in IndyCar for 6 consecutive seasons. I still see her bringing some of that fan base to follow her NASCAR career. Living in Indiana, I have seen so many new fans in IndyCar from young men in the 17-35 year age range to young girls from age 6 on up becoming avid Danica followers. We’ll know the answer soon.