January 26, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
Danica Patrick announced this week that for the first time since 2005, she will not be attempting to win the Indianapolis 500.
The mercurial star, who has flirted with success in what is perhaps the most revered race in the country’s history and would be considered a legitimate contender if she entered this year, has decided to commit herself fully to the transition to stock car racing, and will race in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway instead.
Both races take place on May 27th.
For those who even moderately followed Danica’s storyline in the IndyCar series, this may come as a bit of a surprise -- and a disappointment. Patrick added quite a bit of drama to the Indy 500, and her slow but steady development out of the realm of novelty and into the fire of competition was compelling.
This was a woman who has already had a few good shots to win the biggest race of them all. Danica says she’d like to compete in the 500 in the future and given her stature she’ll likely be granted the chance, but the question now begs: will Danica Patrick, or any woman for that matter, ever win the Indianapolis 500?
At one time, it seemed all but a certainty. Surely, no matter how good a driver is, no one can bank on winning the biggest race in a given series eventually. For an oft-referenced example, look at how long it took Dale Earnhardt to have luck on his side in the Daytona 500. But Danica was progressing. She was getting closer. In this past year’s race, Patrick navigated an ill-handling car from her starting position of 26th up to the lead before running out of fuel. If a woman was ever going to win the Indianapolis 500, all signs pointed to it being Patrick. Give her a few more years, five or six more chances in an able car and she might just do win it.
Such a feat would be revolutionary for the sport. Sure, Patrick’s already won an IndyCar race, the 2008 Indy Japan 300, but that win pales in comparison to the global exposure a victory at Indianapolis would generate. Even non-racing fans know what the Indy 500 is.
A Danica win would not only restart Danica-mania, it would be a huge boon for women trying to enter a thoroughly male-dominated sport.
That’s not to say that a win in the Daytona 500 would not achieve the same global effect, but Patrick now finds herself at the base of an even steeper mountain, rather than just a few feet from the peak in IndyCar. Her transition to the Sprint Cup -- Patrick’s ultimate goal -- will be arduous, if her Nationwide results are any indication.
Patrick will see plenty of track time in 2012, racing the full Nationwide slate for JR Motorsports and a limited 10-race schedule in the the Sprint Cup series for Stewart-Haas Racing. Her first Sprint Cup race of the season will come at Daytona in a little over a month, and it is expected that if Patrick can perform well enough throughout the year in her Nationwide ride, she could be running in NASCAR's premier series full-time very soon.
I, for one, am excited to see Danica fully pledge her talents to one particular style of racing. She's going to give stock car racing her undivided attention and complete effort, and hopefully it works out. But the cost of that commitment may just be her chance to become the first woman to ever win the Indianapolis 500, and who knows when another woman with the necessary ability will come along?
Time will tell if it was the right decision.
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.