Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star reported this evening that Danica Patrick has signed a three-year contract extension with Andretti-Green Racing (soon to be simply Andretti Racing). Much speculation has been thrown about the interwebs regarding her departure from open-wheel racing to seek even more fortune in NASCAR. Even we at Openpaddock.net has dabbled in such speculation. Although she may yet run a race or two (or several) with Tony Stewart’s team, she’s now committed to three more full-time seasons in the IndyCar series. Love her or loathe her, this is GOOD news. The Danica Brand brings a lot of attention to the series that it would not get otherwise. Its true that not enough of her fans have tuned into the races, as the 0.3 ratings on Versus-broadcast events have demonstrated, but they do show up to the track and in droves. Best of all, they show up to the track with cash! Danica-branded merchandise dominates the midway at every venue, and is by far the most commonly seen brand worn by the fans.
So ok, yes, I am an unapologetic capitalist through and through, so I see the retaining of the Danica Brand as an enormous IndyCar asset. Is this good for the hardcore racing fan, though? I’d still say yes. Danica has had her best season of her career sitting 5th in championship points with one race to go, showing best in the championship amongst her teammates, and having a career best 3rd-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. She’s likely to show very well again next year by staying with a team with whom she’s apparently very comfortable, and who’s very comfortable and happy with her. Am I implying that she’s going to contend for the series championship next year? No, most likely not. I do expect her to contend for a race win or two, however. This is overall good for the series as it will bring the attention of media that wouldn’t ordinarily give IndyCar the slightest coverage. Best of all, it will be coverage for a driver doing well, as opposed to the pit-road cat-fight at Mid-Ohio that got so much coverage. Let’s hope we can avoid those moments.
Motorola will continue to sponsor Danica either directly or via their various mobile communications outlets such as Boost Mobile. This is also good for the series and for the rest of the drivers. Any time a sponsor agrees to the level of commitment and duration of commitment as Motorola has done with Danica, it helps the negotiations of all drivers with their respective sponsors because is sets some precedence. That’s not to say that every driver will be able to gain the level of loyalty and support that Motorola has shown Danica, but it does make the process easier, and it makes the IndyCar series an easier sell to potential sponsors. Being in the series in which Danica will be competing for the next three years may be just enough to seal the deal with a potential sponsor who’s on the fence, understanding that they’ll be investing in a series that will be bound to get some media coverage one way or another.
In the end, kudos to Ms. Patrick for having the good sense to avoid the trap that NASCAR would be for her. Sure the money is seductive, but as Shaun and I discussed in Podcast 07, such a move would be disastrous for her. Her credibility as a race car driver would have plummeted at the very first sign of struggles in the stock cars. By staying in the IndyCar series, she sets herself up for the best possible chance at earning more race wins, especially the 500.