From an IndyCar fan's perspective, my thoughts and emotions on this ride have changed as it's dragged on. First, it was disbelief, because like others, I didn't think Danica could succeed in stock cars. The transition is too great, and I didn't see how it would help her brand outside of a short-term cash grab. Then came the anger stage (those that were involved in those thread remember that). Now, though, it's just an apathetic "meh," just like everyone else. It dragged out too long, but here we are.
For the record, I do NOT speak for other IndyCar fans wtih this piece. I'm not trying to speculate how Danica will do in stock cars, nor am I trying to start a fight with the NASCAR fans. I'm writing this for me to try and figure what the hell I'm to think of this.
First, can this help IndyCar? I've heard in some circles that IndyCar can get an exposure benefit. Danica, of course, will get lots of attention during her NASCAR races, and well, at some point, they have to mention her IndyCar career. Could her new fans in NASCAR check her out at her (for now) full-time job? I hear this, but don't really buy it. These "Danica fans" didn't really seem to materialize during her IndyCar career, as attendance and ratings figures can attest. Second, I'm sure NASCAR will downplay that part of Danica's career as much as possible. In the end though, IndyCar blogger pressdog is probably correct on the situation. The money quote:
Yeah, good for her. Yeah Danica. Some are saying "You see the IndyCar right there in the shot with the N-word car! Great exposure for IndyCar."
Pardon me while I buy a cake and plan a party! We're "in the shot." So is the third-string cornerback during the Super Bowl celebration. You can "clearly see the IndyCar logo!" Super-awesome. Except for the fact that I have some pride and prefer not to see IndyCar grovel for table scraps from Cabland or to have the series' nuts kept in a jar on Danica's nightstand.
Pretty much. Not a good situation. I can't think of a way this is a positive development for IndyCar, and I'm not going to try.
Secondly, I would like to comment on Danica's skill level. As we all know, she has one career victory in 81 IndyCar starts. However, that does not mean she's a completely untalented hack, as many here and elsewhere have suggested. She's a moderately talented driver who consistently runs in the top 10, and occasionally top 5. She rarely crashes, partly due to ability to bring it home, and partly due to a conservative driving style (which is likely a reason for a lack of wins). Not a world-beater, but above average. Did her looks and gender get her farther than necessarily deserved? Yes, but that's modern racing. Talent isn't the sole arbiterer of who goes where. Attracting sponsors matters, and she certainly can do that. To use an often-used NASCAR phase, it is what it is.
That said, 2009 was her best season in the cockpit, despite the addition of more road courses to the IndyCar schedule and the distractions from the endless discussions of her future. She was 5th in points in a year where the top two teams, Penske and Ganassi, and their four drivers dominated the season. She also showed more maturity than ever before, not getting into a single argument or throwing an on-track tantrum. While it could be a one year aberration, the possibility exists that she's finally matured a bit, something that some don't seem to want to acknowledge. I understand Danica is not that likeable a person. I'm not a fan myself of her personally. I just wanted to add some context to the discussion as someone who seen just about every race she's run since she hit the stage in 2005.
So, saying all that, will I root for Danica to succeed? To the extent I root for all former open-wheelers to succeed, yes. At times, I feel that's the only way the form of racing I love is going to get any respect. The success of Juan Montoya this year, as well as AJ Allmendinger showing some moments and even Max Papis becoming a fan favorite helped in this regard, but at times it feels like an uphill battle. I do think the backlash is more anti-Danica, which I can understand. That said, if she fails (and there are plenty of reason why that's possible, if not likely), that doesn't mean she's a terrible driver as a whole. Just like failing didn't make Dario Franchitti terrible, or Sam Hornish Jr. if his lackluster stock car career stays on this path. They're very different forms of racing, and switching can't possibly be easy, no matter who is converting to what (ahem, Mr. Waltrip).
So, to conclude this rambling mess, I want to go back to what it means IndyCar and it's future. Danica notwithstanding, good things are happening. The series finally has a title sponsor, Izod, and they are interested in marketing and activation. Better still, their strategy is based on marketing the speed of the cars and is not based on one driver. There also remains a possibility that next year's car count will increase into the 24-26 range, which is about the sweet spot for non-Indy 500 races. While the problems remain large and the work long and hard, the sky is not falling because Danica is plotting her exit strategy.
So, in the end, good luck Danica (I guess). While your firestorm churns out, I'm going to try and be cautiously optimistic for the future of the Izod IndyCar Series. That, and countdown to May like always.