The Return of Danicamania

Chicagoland was the place for a whole host of news and new faces around the track and the NASCAR garage. There were new pit reporters, because of the change from FOX broadcasts to the NBC/TNT team. There were fans from the northern states who travel to Chicago because it's the only NASCAR race close enough for them to get to. There was even Scottie Pippen hanging around in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. pit during the race.

The big news of the weekend, and the newest face at the track, was that of Juan Pablo Montoya, and the announcement that he has signed on with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the number 42 car in 2007.

But by Monday morning, that was already old news. Another new face has shown interest in NASCAR. Danica Patrick's manager (who also happens to be her father) was seen around the track "exploring the possible interest of teams and sponsors". Afterall, with all the changes after this season, there may be quite a few rides available.

It's been said that Patrick could make the switch from Indy Racing to NASCAR as early as next year. Her IRL contract with Rahal-Letterman Racing expires at the end of this season, so she's certainly free to do just that. But it is a wise move?

Having Patrick suddenly leap onto the scene at the same time a Montoya would definitely increase NASCAR viewership, which seems to be one of the biggest concerns with NASCAR officials lately. It's already been discussed that Montoya would bring viewers from F1 racing, as well as more Latin viewers. Patrick would bring more female fans, and a whole level of media hype. But Patrick's move could be too much, too quickly.

After all, she hasn't exactly established herself in the IRL series. This is only her second season, and she hasn't had a ton of success. She had a good run at Indy in her rookie season, finishing 4th but hasn't done a whole lot since then. She has an average finish this season of 10.6, with her best finish being a 6th place at St. Petersburg. No wins. No top 5s. (She did had two top 5s her rookie year, and finished 12th in the standings)

Before that, she drove for three years in the Toyota Atlantic Championship series, with pretty similar results.

But does she have any experience driving stock cars? The cars are much heavier, have less aerodynamics, and handle very differently. Wouldn't it be better for her to get into a Busch series car for a season or two and get the feel of the racing style before jumping up to Cup level. At this point, we can only hope that's what her manager is working on.

Sure it would be great to have a female driver in the Cup series. Especially one who already has a significant media following and fan base. Her looks would also fit in well with the "pretty boy" images that NASCAR has been promoting recently (Just think about Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the "Young Guns", etc) But if she turns out to be not quite ready, and fails miserably, it would be a crushing blow to any future female drivers trying to get into the Cup series. And it could end up reinforcing many of the negative feelings and attitudes toward woman drivers.

If anyone can change those attitudes, Patrick certainly could be the one to do it. But only when she's ready for NASCAR style racing. And after only a mediocre IRL career, "DanicaMania" probably needs some seat time in a Busch car before making the leap to the Cup series.

Published on July 13, 2006 in