We’re still talking bout the D-Word

Man, I really thought I was done writing about Danica Patrick.

It’s not that your humble host has any animosity towards her, but rather that I (and I’m sure many others) had grown weary of discussing her. When she walked away from Indycar after the 2011 season for tin tops I felt much like my former college dorm-mate from St Louis, who upon hearing the NFL’s Cardinals were moving to Arizona casually said to me, “you can have ‘em”.

I’m sure you remember all of the folks who said she was supposed to be an indispensable driver in the series, and if she walked away they were going to lose a huge chunk of the fan base. Well, here we are six years later, and the series is actually looking pretty good.

Of course, that didn’t stop one reporter from writing that the door is still open.

As far as a return to IndyCar, Patrick: “I’m not planning on anything going back to IndyCar but never say never.”

Nevermind that she’s never actually raced in a DW12. Nevermind that she clearly wants to stay in the most visible form of racing on the continent. All that matters is we START SOME CHATTER because she’s so colossally important to the survival of the struggling league. Or something.

I mean, I know that’s not what the reporter is saying, but my point is why bother asking her if she’s returning? She’s never said anything to indicate a return, and at this point it would be a little like getting back together with an ex-spouse. People, everybody’s moved on.

But she said “never say never” and as with anytime her name comes up in Indycar interwebs there’s so many comments of either “Yay” or “Boo” and very little in between. So now your humble host will offer a lukewarm take on this. Because interwebs and traffic and stuff.

At one time I may have been confused for a Danica apologist, simply because I didn’t think in her Indycar career she was driving way beneath the skill level of most of her competitors. To the contrary: I think her record demonstrated a profound level of competence. DO NOT LAUGH, PLEASE.

Look, the whole argument against her Indycar career comes down to this simple formula: the proportion of media coverage divided by the number of wins. And if you look at it that way there was no way she was going to be consider successful, because she was basically 50% of all of the coverage of the sport for seven years. Short of being the female equivalent of Scott Dixon (“Dixie Scott?”) there was no way she wasn’t going to irritate many hard core fans.

And that’s sad, because had she received similar media coverage to Sarah Fisher or Simona De Silvestro she’s probably be resented less. On the other hand, she wouldn’t be the famous one-name start she is today.

Anyhow, here are the facts of her seven years and 115 races in the Indycar series:

  • Finished in the Top 10 in all but her rookie season (12th)
  • Highest championship finish of 5th in 2009
  • Over 60 Top 10 finishes
  • Nearly 20 Top 5 finishes
  • Seven podium finishes
  • Three starts from the pole position
  • Finished 103 of her 115 career races
  • Finished all but 1 race in her last 3 seasons(!!!)

Great? No. But good? Yes.

If you want to say anything derogatory about her driving, there’s an argument to be made about her qualifying. Compared to her peers she generally wasn’t very good in this area, having a career average start of 12th. But in actual races she nearly always (1) advanced her position and (2) finished the race. Is it the stuff of legends? Well, I guess that depends on cheesecake pictures and GoDaddy ads more than racing, but that’s not the point. The point is she was clearly a competent Indycar driver.

What’s ironic is that the fact she completed so many laps, which clearly her sponsors and car owners appreciated, became a type of fuel for her haters. Blame ABC\ESPN for this because they seemed to think that no less than half the audience was only watching for Danica, and as such treated Indycar race broadcasts accordingly. And since she rarely retired early from a race we had start-to-finish Danica coverage every single race.

If I recall correctly it went something like this: Here’s the battle for the lead. Now here’s Danica in 8th. Now here are drivers trying to avoid Marty Roth/Milka Duno/(insert ride buyer here). Oh look, Danica is up to 7th! Etc and so forth. Jack Arute says “Scott Dixon is making fuel”. Oh dear, Danica is back to 10th.

Of course, those Indycar stats are probably still etched in stone, because losing a ride in NAPCAR, err, NASCAR does not in any way indicate a driver is returning to Indycar. Especially for Ms Patrick. Danica has always been about “her brand”, and now that is a NASCAR driver. Short of winning the Indianapolis 500 I don’t see how that brand gets improved be returning to Indycar.

Wait, did I just intimate there might be a chance she’d race in The 500 again? Oh man, this is exactly how these rumors get started. I should just shut up now.

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