Is Danica Behind The Split At AGR?

The announcement that Andretti-Green Racing was splitting, re-organizing, re-structuring or whatever they want to call it; was just a matter of days before reports began to surface that Danica Patrick would more than likely re-sign with the team that has employed her since the 2007 season.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I consider myself to be fairly well-grounded and don’t buy into a lot of pop-culture theories. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I don’t believe that George W. Bush or the CIA engineered 9/11. I think Elvis died in 1977 and I don’t believe that Michael Jackson is still alive today.

With all that being said, I am a little suspicious in the timing of these two events at AGR. All summer long, we were led to believe that Ms. Patrick would be headed elsewhere. At first, the possibility of her bolting to NASCAR kept hanging over our collective heads. Then the rumors were flying that she would be headed to a third car at Chip Ganassi’s team. Michael Andretti was given little, if any, hope of re-signing the marketing star.

Robin Miller first reported a couple of weeks ago that Michael Andretti and his partners, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, were splitting. Last week an official announcement came that explained that Michael Andretti would be handling the racing side of the company, while Green and Savoree would be taking over the operations of Andretti-Green Promotions – the division that promotes the races for St. Petersburg and Toronto. Both divisions would become separate entities to be renamed after the current season.

Oddly enough, on the heels of that announcement comes the rumor that Andretti and Patrick are suddenly close to striking a deal. In fact, Curt Cavin reported in Tuesday’s Indianapolis Star that Michael involved Danica in the discussions to streamline AGR by buying out Green and Savoree. Michael was quoted later in the article as saying he will not be sharing ownership with anyone, including Patrick. Hmmm…

This smells of a power play by Danica. I’m merely speculating here. I have no real facts to work from, so don’t everybody start saying I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll do it for you. But if you add two and two together, it’s not always difficult to come up with four. If Danica were not going to receive partial ownership of the new company, then why on earth would she be involved in the discussions? It sounds to me like Danica had gravitated to Michael’s side and presented her own bargaining chip. Perhaps she said she would stay if Green and Savoree were no longer part of the equation.

Does Danica have a beef with Kim Green and Kevin Savoree? Kim Green seems to be very “hands-on” with the team. Over the years, he is seen operating in various pits, although lately it seems like he has been working with Hideki Mutoh’s team. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t know Kevin Savoree if he were to walk into my house in a 7-Eleven firesuit. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a picture of the man, and I know less about his function with the team. But the fact that the two of them are splitting away from Michael, tells me that there may be some personality conflicts with Danica. Perhaps Green and Savoree didn’t want to re-sign her, but Michael did. However, this is all strictly conjecture on my part.

Danica has obviously benefited from having Michael serve as her race strategist this season. She has not ever been a threat to win all season, but she has consistently run up front and usually brings her equipment home in one piece. In fact, the only two times I can think of her having an incident were both caused by over-zealous rookies – Raphael Matos collided with her and took both of them into the fence at St. Pete and Mike Conway punted her into the gravel pit at Mid-Ohio. Otherwise, she has kept her nose clean and it’s reflected by her fifth place in the standings.

But a fifth place driver with only one win on their resume normally doesn’t wield the kind of power to order an entire team to be restructured around them. That is, unless they are Danica Patrick. I get it that Danica is a marketing empire unto herself. I also understand the ramifications were she to bolt for NASCAR. But if that is what truly happened, that’s just not right. It’s a true sign of the tail wagging the dog. It reminds me of the time in 1981, when a young Magic Johnson essentially had L.A. Lakers coach Paul Westhead fired in favor of assistant coach Pat Riley. It worked out for Johnson, Riley and the Lakers, but it still caused quite a stir at the time for ANY player to hold that much power on a team.

It sounds like Danica had wisely sought out the advice of other drivers whether or not to give NASCAR a serious look. All signs point to everyone telling her she should stay put in the IndyCar Series. After that decision was behind her, indications were that she was going to sign with Ganassi. I wonder if she started worrying about her legacy and her ability to produce at Ganassi. So long as she stayed at AGR, she could blame her failure to win consistently on the team that has under-achieved this season. However, if she went to a championship level organization like Ganassi and failed to achieve results similar to those of her teammates, then the blame must fall on her.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was considered a sympathetic figure as he toiled away at DEI without winning. Everyone blamed the team. Now that he has moved over to Hendrick Motorsports with the same lack of results, he is looked upon as an under-performing driver. The same could happen with Danica at Ganassi. Say what you will about Danica Patrick, but she is not stupid. She is quite savvy and is very aware of her image and marketing potential – for today and in the distant future, when her driving days are behind her. Tarnishing her legacy today harms the earning potential for tomorrow.

Again – this is pure speculation on my part, which is something that I don’t always do. But it seems that drama has a habit of following Ms. Patrick. It also seems quite coincidental that the formation of two separate companies and the acknowledgement from both sides that a re-signing of Danica is eminent, were just days apart. I would be surprised if I am wrong.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Is Danica Behind The Split At AGR?”

  1. While Michael might’ve involved her in the discussions about where the team was headed, don’t you think he clued Tony Kanaan and Marco in all them as well to let them know where the team is headed and how they can get back on the right track?

    After all, that’s why Kanaan sounded so confident on Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee’s radio show two weeks ago when asked if Danica was going to be his teammate in 2010, he said she would.

  2. I don’t think Danica’s going to obtain a piece of ownership, but your argument is interesting, especially when you talk about the tail wagging the dog. It may not be right, but beyond Helio Castroneves, Danica is all the IRL has in the mainstream. And while she’s no Magic Johnson, we all know how much she brings to the table for the series. She does too.

    Question for ya, George: If this works out in Patrick getting more wins and exposure, then will it really matter if it’s right or wrong? Your thoughts?

    • oilpressure Says:

      Going back to the Magic Johnson analogy…it worked out for all concerned (except for Paul Westhead). But the whole idea of a player, or in this case – a driver, leveraging their position to reshape an entire organization is setting a dangerous precedent…if that is indeed what has happened here. Keep in mind, I’m merely speculating for argument’s sake. — GP

  3. I don’t know that Danica deliberately “Engineered” the split so much as her basic salalry demands created a philosophical difference of opinion within the ownership group. I imagine all the owners wanted to sign her, but had differences of opinion on how much she was worth to them. It may be tha the only two possible outcomes here were to either split the team and sign her or not sign her and risk having the team downsize to two cars from a lack of sponsorship.

    If the tail wags the dog on this team it may have more to do with accomodating Marco.

    Going forward, the success of this team seems to hing on whether they will find the test / setup driver they are sorely missing. In Danica they have a driver who can keep her nose clean and get the car to the end. In TK and Marco they have drivers who can take the car as is and get just a smidge more from it within the race. The problem is the “take the car as is” aspect. The “as is” for AGR cars most weekends is pretty mediocre. There is no one on the team who can take an underperforming car, communicate with engineers and bring it up to snuff for the others to exploit.

  4. But, what if Danica bought out part of the team, and then was co-owner?

  5. I understand the value DP brings to the league as a whole, but why is a slightly above average driver–or as you put it–“a fifth place driver with one win” so valuable to an individual team owner? Is it just because of the (I’m sure considerable) sponsorship money she brings to the team?

  6. Danica made remarks during an interview that implied she had a problem with Savoree. She said that the breakup of AGR/AGP was “good for me,” and said that she preferred dealing with Michael, and that when she talked to Michael things got done.

    That’s not the same thing as demanding that AGR break up. It would be outrageous for Danica’s agent to make a demand like that. He’d get laughed out of the room. OTOH, if we take the liberty of assuming that Michael was determined to resign Danica even at a high cost, and that his partners didn’t agree, that would provide all the impetus necessary to start thinking about parting ways.

    Who knows. It’s fun to speculate. It’s also pointless. Pointless fun… my favorite kind!

  7. Since we’re speculating, several things crossed my mind while listening to the Versus interview with Danica in Sonoma.

    Danica said that she was glad to see changes being made, and that the existing process of doing a little here and a little there wasn’t solving the problem. Listening between the lines, I got the distinct impression that Michael has ideas on what needs to be done to bring Andretti Racing back to the front, but that he may not have been getting the support from the other two members of the ownership team. Danica has said that Michael gets things done, implying that Green and Savoree were more inclined to let things drag out, for whatever reasons. Michael himself said in an interview after the split (sorry, I don’t have a reference for it), that he knows what the problem is, but didn’t want to discuss it. That leads to the next thought.

    Danica made reference to major changes (plural), rather than a major change, from the top down. That tells me that we are likely to see even more changes within Andretti, possibly changes that could only be made with Green and Savoree out of the picture. I have heard rumors, strictly rumors, that some of the issues revolve around nepotism and friendship within the organization (no, not Marco). If that is the case, it may very well be that certain individuals are occupying decision making positions or involved in critical engineering development who may be less than capable or have been operating under a different agenda. If Michael has identified this as a problem area, his reluctance to discuss it can certainly be understood. If this is in fact more than a rumor, Michael is now in a position to deal with it directly, without resistance.

    Did Danica go to Michael and demand changes be made in order for her to return? I don’t think so. Surely Michael knew that if things continued as they have over the past couple of years that Danica would be gone. I can, however, see him meeting privately with Danica, Tony and perhaps Marco, singly or as a group, to discuss the problems as he defined them and seek their opinion. I can also see him assuring his drivers that changes were going to be made, and that the team would once again be a powerhouse organization. Those assurances would certainly give Danica reason to re-assess her position and would lead Tony to feel comfortable in saying that Danica would return. The only demand related to Danica, either made by her or self-imposed by Michael, would be that the changes be put into motion in time for results to be seen and commitment evidenced before her existing contract expired.

    The split between Michael and Kim was rumored after a less than acceptable performance in 2008, even though it did not happen. As I recall, that was the year that AGR and Showa went their separate ways, with Showa walking off with all of the engineering and set up data. Was this a critical decision with which Michael did not totally agree? Was he assured by Green and Savoree that this was a decision which, while detrimental in the short term, would reap long term benefits? Has this been a pattern in other areas, and if so how deep does it run?

    No conspiracy theories, just ideas and thoughts based on rumor, supposition and reading between the lines. The bottom line, however, is that as of now a new sense of rejuvenation is in play at Andretti Racing. Michael is confident in the future of the team, Danica is confident in the team’s ability to provide her the opportunity to win, and the sponsors appear to be happy with the future.

  8. tim nothhelfer Says:

    Right or not Danika gets the kind of fan, media and sponsor attention and activity that every team dreams of.
    Micheal should act on his own. Danika doesn’t need to make any demands because she is in demand. She is like the pretty girl with self esteem…. everybody will raise their game to get to be with her.

  9. Dicks Simon Says:

    Danica’s “value” to the series has always been vastly overrated.

    Lets face facts….since she has come on the scene, fewer and fewer people are watching. The sport is on some podunk cable network now and there are very few signs of light for the sport.

    She is a great money maker for herself and has made a name for herself, out of mediocre racing talent and a miserable attitude. For that, she should be lauded.

    But she has done diddly squat for the SPORT. She hasn’t made Indy Car interesting. She hasn’t made it more popular. She hasn’t made it more marketable.

    All she is for Andretti’s team, is a check-bringer/sponsor secuer. She is the cashcow for his kid’s team. Just like any other ridebuyer, who funds teams so that the real drivers on the team have better funding.

    Enough with her “importance”. If she was that “important” as a “brand”, she’d get hired in NASCAR. NASCAR doesn’t want her, no matter how much she begs them. And NASCAR don’t want you, you are irrelevent in American racing.

  10. Honestly, this thought crossed my mind when all this news was breaking. I’m not going to say that she is the sole reason for this, but it is awfully fishy that AGR never had a shot in hell of re-signing Danica and all of a sudden, she’s coming back right after the owners go their separate ways.

  11. Is anything going on between Danica and Michael?
    Just asking? No accusations!!!
    You know she is cute……….

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