The Indy Racing League is sending Danica Patrick candy and flowers. It’s on bended knee. It’s whispering sweet nothings. It’s begging.
“Please don’t leave. Please don’t pack your things and run off with that bunch of NASCAR rowdies with the big fenders and Gomer accents.”
Patrick is playing it coy. She hasn’t said she’s leaving. But — and this is what has the IRL in a sweaty dither — she hasn’t said she’s staying.
Recently Danica continued her NASCAR flirtation with a visit to Stewart-Hass Racing. Owner/driver Tony Stewart is convinced she’ll make the move at some point.
Patrick is tampering with more than the IRL’s affections. She’s tampering with its very future. If the IRL loses Patrick, it loses its biggest star and with her a significant chunk of its audience.
IRL officials are taking a “hands-on approach” to try to keep her from straying. They have talked with her marketing reps about ways to persuade the glamour girl of open-wheel racing to stay put.
“We have worked hard and closely with [Patrick’s reps] to hopefully give them confidence in the future of our series and her role in that future,” said an IRL spokesman. “I think we’re looking pretty good. We feel good about it.”
Patrick’s three-year contract with Andretti Green expires at the end of the season and speculation about a jump to NASCAR has been hotter than her Sports Illustrated photo layout.
But there are positives and negatives to a NASCAR move.
Negatives: In NASCAR, the competition is much tougher.
Positives: With NASCAR’s exposure and marketing opportunities, she could pay off the nation's dept with T-shirt sales alone.
Skeptics doubt that Patrick could cut it in stock car racing, noting last year’s flameout of former IRL champ Dario Franchitti.
But that depends on what you mean by “cut it.” Patrick hasn’t exactly dominated in the IRL — she has one win in five years — yet she still sells more merchandise and has a bigger following than all the other drivers combined.
NASCAR’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is likewise struggling, yet like Danica he continues to out-draw and out-sell all other drivers. Junior is proof that a driver doesn’t have to be a champion to be a fan favorite.
Fans would flock to watch the spirited Patrick in action and root for her to prove her detractors wrong.
At a time when NASCAR attendance and TV ratings are in a slump, she could cure what ails them. Mere speculation about a move to NASCAR has been one of the year’s biggest stories; imagine the response if she actually made the jump.
Danica at Daytona? It would create a media frenzy unparalleled in the history of the sport. Patrick overnight would be worth her weight (about 100 pounds in a wet bikini) in gold.
The IRL better have lots of candy.
Woody is a Nashville sports writer who has covered racing since the early 1970s.