IndyCar still needs Danica

BY foxsports • December 14, 2009

Months of rampant rumors and speculation finally started to clear up as Danica Patrick announced a three-year deal to stay in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

Patrick, the lone female driver to win a major-league open-wheel event, will stay with Michael Andretti's team — the newly re-christened Andretti Autosport. The new deal also means a new primary backer as former associate sponsor has stepped up. While Patrick's old black and orange colors remain, a major splash of GoDaddy green is now on her No. 7 entry.

As for what this means to the series, that depends on who's the viewer. Obviously, it's big for the IndyCars to keep their most popular driver until at least 2012. It's also another boost of momentum after IZOD's ascension to title sponsor of the series and the recent news that Sao Paulo, Brazil, will play host to next year's IndyCar opener — a race that stands to make the IRL and IndyCar teams some serious coin.

It should be noted too that Patrick is aligned with a sponsor that knows how to promote itself and its drivers to a national audience. Does CEO Bob Parsons and his company push the envelope a bit in their advertisements? Of course. But that's going to be necessary for a league that's trying to fashion itself (no pun intended) as "the fastest race on Earth." It needs personalities to match that moniker.

Patrick fits the bill nicely with her attention-grabbing ways. Just look at how she's had the media riled up for this announcement for months. The unveiling of her new ride was in front of millions on ABC's "Good Morning America" and then FOX News Channel's "America's Newsroom." That's the impact that she brings and the IRL is lucky to have it on their side for the next three years.

However, NASCAR still lurks. Now that we know what Patrick's IndyCar plans look like, don't be surprised to see a part-time stock car program for Patrick to emerge in the near-future and don't be surprised to see her go to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s NASCAR Nationwide team — which is, conveniently enough, sponsored by as well.

Danica's ultimate goal may be to win the Indianapolis 500, but she knows that in order to enhance her brand and get out in front of more people, NASCAR is where it's at. There's too much marketing firepower that would be at her disposal should she make the jump. When we hear of her stock car program, the clock will begin to tick on her open-wheel career.

What's more, the clock will also start to tick on the IZOD IndyCar Series.

The folks in Indianapolis will have three seasons to turn multiple drivers into mainstream stars that can blunt the impact of Patrick's seemingly destined move to NASCAR. The league has never been able to market itself beyond its hardcore fanbase, but with IZOD now on board, there's a chance that will change.

Helio Castroneves may enjoy a solid fanbase along with Patrick, but there's plenty of skilled drivers in the series that can use a push in the public eye. IZOD has already aligned with one of those drivers in talented American leadfoot Ryan Hunter-Reay. But how will they and the series work with people like Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Ryan Briscoe?

The IRL has been putting itself in a position to gain new fans with this current string of offseason moves and Patrick's decision to stay in open-wheel racing a little while longer will help keep interest. But she won't be around forever and that's why the time is now to create a lineup of popular drivers before she decides to leave the series.

The clock is ticking.

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