What's the best way to push criticism out of today's sports news cycle?
Simple: Come up with other news to overshadow the criticism.
Regardless of motive, Patrick's move to NASCAR appears to be all but a done deal. Whether the signing gets announced next week, next month, or early next year, expect her to show up to Daytona in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Her first race will likely be in the ARCA Series, after which she'll strap into her No. 5 Chevy for the 300-mile Nationwide race (the sport's equivalent of AAA baseball) on Saturday, Feb. 13. She'll run about a dozen races, dependent largely upon her adjustment to stock cars and the expanded schedule of going above and beyond her 17 scheduled weekends in IndyCar.
But even six or eight Danica sightings will be a great thing for a sport struggling for something new to talk about. As it stands next season, no drivers will compete for Rookie of the Year in Cup for the first time since 1992. Driver development has slowed to a trickle, as both the economy and declining ratings have made the funding for new drivers dry up. Let's face it: We're in a recession and advertisers want a return on their investment, making a 19-year-old kid with nothing on his resume a shaky proposition compared to
That's where Patrick can turn the tide. Even if she struggles initially, her presence will brings in millions in marketing dollars and new companies will take an interest in the sport. By finalizing the decision, she'll make a statement that says, in essence, "This is the racing series that has the most potential for me to be successful." It takes away the momentum IndyCar had following their CART-IRL merger in 2008, as their Most Popular Driver unfolds an exit strategy right before their eyes, but or the first time in months, NASCAR might have something to point to and say, "Look! We've got a major superstar in auto racing who still believes in our success." It will also help other drivers who are dragged in on her coattails, with NASCAR's main feeder series benefiting from the "up-and-coming" talent label that it's struggled to reattach for years.
But whether Danica will be successful over the long haul is yet to be seen. Open-wheel converts have jumped to NASCAR with mixed results: For every champion (
So will Patrick's dozen races a year be enough for her to make a successful transition? Stewart's shown it can be done, after 36 starts, six top fives, and seven top 10s over three years in the Busch Series, before he jumped to Cup full-time in 1999. Patrick's involvement with Hendrick opens the door for Stewart to act as a mentor as she follows a similar path. But Patrick's schedule in open-wheel is far larger than Stewart's ever was, creating the biggest adjustment for someone used to three weeks off DURING the course of an IndyCar season. This time around, she'll be lucky to have a chance to breathe.
In the end, transitioning to NASCAR gives Danica the best shot at success, which is why the move is a no brainer. If she succeeds,
Right now, that's all that the series can pray for, as NASCAR has used one of the few bullets left in its rapidly depleting supply.
• With the Talladega debacle simmering strong in fans' minds, the unanswered question is whether there'll be changes in the restrictor plate package prior to this February at Daytona. The answer so far? Nothing definitive. From what I'm hearing, any changes won't be announced for several weeks...
• This one's got me scratching my head. Even though