Whether you love Danica or not, she has been good for the IndyCar series in many ways. She has brought media attention, sponsorship interest and scores of fans into following her exploits in the series.
But now, she may become one of the most hotly contested assets in all of motorsport. With parties as varied as IndyCar, NASCAR and eve USF1 expressing interest in cashing in on her popularity, she is in a wonderful position to negotiate her next contract.
Per her contract with AGR, she is now able to start contract talks with other parties, so let the games begin. So where do I think she will end up? Well, I want her to end up back in IndyCar. For reasons stated above, it would be a major blow to a series that is reeling from poor ratings on Versus, poor ratings on ABC and press leaks foretelling that Tony George will be booted from IMS management to keep him from dumping the family fortune down the drain. Now is not the time to also lose your most marketable driver.
As they pointed out on Trackside last week, part of the reason that the Hulman family needs to clearly spell out their intentions regarding IMS and the IRL is that sponsors and drivers are right now starting to make decisions about next year. If there is concern over the stability of the sport, then that may play in to Danica’s upcoming decision.
So here are the options as I see them:
NASCAR: Danica could make a boatload of cash down south. She is already a very marketable person, but she has relatively little exposure in IndyCar. With NASCAR’s much larger audience and sponsor pool, Danica could end up with Peyton Manning like salary and endorsements. But the downside is that she would have to learn a new style of driving, new cars, new tracks and cope with twice as many races that are three times as long.
Then there is the potential for Dario-esque failure in Cup. Danica as a brand could suffer if she tried to put in the necessary 2 or 3 years of development to become competitive in the COT series.
F1: Simply put, she does not have the credentials to merit an F1 drive. She does not have a stellar win record here in the states and she doesn’t have the road course pedigree that the up and coming European candidates have. Talent and experience wise, she stands at the shallow end of the pool. She is a marketing machine here in the states. But I wonder how much of that novelty would wear off in the light of a much more jaded F1 fanbase and media.
IndyCar: Some reports out of Robin Miller’s mouth have indicated that Chip Ganassi is trying to put together a third car for Danica next year. This makes wonderful sense. If Danica is going to be lured to stay in IndyCar, it will have to be with Penske or Ganassi. No other teams can guarantee that she would get a competitive seat. And Ganassi seems to be the better option of the two, unless Roger is planning on ending his sponsorship agreement with Marlboro who cannot do much to market Penske’s drivers due to the restrictions on tobacco advertising.
In the end, she will take a look at all the options on the table and decide which offer gives her the best chance of winning and maintaining the brand identity that she has developed for herself.
She has the best chance of winning if she stays in IndyCar. She has the most opportunity of hurting her reputation by moving to NASCAR or F1.