Patrick Sets Indy Aside In Favor Of NASCAR Challenges
On Monday, Open-Wheel star Danica Patrick dropped a big surprise on hundreds of motorsports writers from around the nation.
During the first of four days of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Patrick told the group of some 230 strong that she will not compete in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 this coming May.
She is running a 10-race Cup schedule with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2012, which will include the Coca Cola 600 May 27that CMS, the same day the Indianapolis 500 is set to run.
When asked why she elected to make the move, Patrick said that in the end, it all came down to a simple “business decision.”
"I'm not going to do the Indy 500,” Patrick said. “I hope to do it in the future, the Indy 500 that is, and maybe it will be a double.
"But at this point in time, after a lot of conversations, it's just going to be the Coke 600 and I think it's going to be a big challenge. It's just something that didn't work out, as far as the business side of things.
"Again, I'm hopeful to do it in the future, but this year it didn't happen. I’ve wanted to race stock cars for a little while here and it’s happening. We’ve added another challenge with the Coke 600 - or Coke 6,000 as I’ve been told.”
Patrick’s reference to the “double” is two events in a single day – a very carefully orchestrated logistical move from one major race to another.
It involves competing at the Indianapolis 500 at IMS during the day, a jog to an awaiting helicopter for a trip to Charlotte to climb aboard a Cup ride for the Coca-Cola 600, It’s 1,100 miles of hard racing - all in about eight hours.
It’s a tough feat to pull off. Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti have all tried to start and finish both premier events on the same day.
Stewart completed the double twice - first in 1999 when he was ninth at Indianapolis and fourth at Charlotte. Then in 2001, he was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
Even though he has always wanted an Indy 500 win since he first began racing as a child, Stewart does have two Brickyard 400 wins at Indianapolis. An Indy 500 win is still the missing jewel – and may always be.
Patrick has made a very strong fan impact at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the past decade. In 2005, she led 19 laps late in the 500, raising hopes of an incredible Cinderella finish, but she ultimately finished fourth. She also enjoyed a very strong run in 2009 where she finished third.
A glance into her intense brown eyes gives a hint as to how determined and focused Patrick is on the job at hand. She’s set on running a full-time Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports in Chevys owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., while wheeling fluorescent green Chevrolets in 10 Cup races for three-time champion Stewart.
She realizes she has a lot to learn and is quite humble about her stock car abilities. But at the same time, she is very confident and feels if Trevor Bayne, last year’s Daytona 500 winner, could pull off a heartwarming victory, she can too.
For months, Patrick has had eight Cup races set with Stewart, but left two open dates, in part to assess how the season progressed. But the flexibility also gives her a chance to determine where she feels strong finishes can come.
Patrick is a very talented racer with realistic expectations about her stock car career. She’s looking at collecting as many top-20s as she can in 2012. But her boss, Stewart, feels her first job should be getting seat time before making the full-time move to Cup in 2013. She will need to be completely ready to go up against NASCAR’s greatest drivers.
“I crashed everything that I drove when I drove the Nationwide cars. We got to the Cup side and it got better, obviously," Stewart said. "But I think looking at it, these 10 races for her this year, for me, it's just about finishing the races and just getting the track time. I'm not worried about what her finish is at the end of the day.
"I think the success at the end of the year won't be judged by where the finishing positions are as much as what she takes away from each race weekend. That's what my goal is for her."
Patrick is pretty opened-minded when it comes to which races would be perfect to fulfill her first season of Cup racing. The special non-points All-Star race at CMS a week before the 600 might be a perfect choice. After all, no points awarded means no points will be lost.
"Somebody even mentioned something about the All-Star race,” Patrick said. "I was like, 'I don't think I'm an All-Star.' They're like, 'Well, there is a fan vote.'
"The Brickyard might be a great place to add a 10th race. Indy Car fans, there are a lot of them there, of course. It would be great to go there and do the big NASCAR race. I love that track. It's my favorite track."
No matter which tracks she chooses to fill out her commitment, there will be a lot of media attention.
During good weeks and bad, Patrick will be making news in 2012.