Should IndyCar Foot The Bill For Danica?

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If you have been paying attention to the Verizon IndyCar Series, you know that Jordan King has joined Ed Carpenter Racing for the upcoming season to drive the No.20 car on the non-ovals. René Binder was also given a four-race deal with Juncos Racing. My first question when I heard both of these names was “who?”.

Over the weekend, longtime reader and commenter Skip Free asked me on Facebook if I was tired of the “Driver Who?” types getting rides, while Danica Patrick sits idle.

My biggest complaint about the “Driver who?” types is that they are not coming from the Mazda Road to Indy (MRTI). They seem to be coming from the various feeder series in Europe. While everyone complained that Conor Daly lost his ride at AJ Foyt Enterprises to Matheus Leist – at least Leist finished fourth in Indy Lights last season. Both of these newest confirmed IndyCar drivers have never had a bit of involvement with the MRTI.

It reminds me of the early 2000’s when Chip Ganassi snubbed the entire Indy Lights field to hire two obscure drivers no one had heard of – Bruno Junqueira and Nick Minaasian. Junqueira ended up being a decent IndyCar driver, but Minassian didn’t finish his first season with Ganassi and never drove in American Open-Wheel again.

When Danica Patrick announced that she would be closing out her racing career at this year’s Indianapolis 500, she did so assuming that she would have a car available to her in which to do so. Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal and Michael Andretti came out almost immediately, and said their teams were full for May. When Chip Ganassi didn’t make the same proclamation, it was assumed by all of us that she may be closing out her career driving one of his cars.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. A couple of weeks ago, Ganassi acknowledged he had had talks with Patrick initially, but it now looks doubtful that they will be able to put anything together for May. Sam Schmidt has also ruled out Patrick at his team. Danica is having trouble getting together any kind of significant sponsorship deal to make it attractive for any car owner.

Recently, Robin Miller reported on Racer.com that if Danica Patrick did not get a ride, the series would step up and pay for her to have a ride. They want her in this year’s “500” that bad.

Several precedents have been set to pave the way for that to happen. Tony George propped up several teams in the early days of the IRL. In fact, that was partly what led to his ouster in 2009, when his sisters removed him as CEO of the series – partly because they were tired of seeing their inheritance being bled away unchecked.

More recently, the series made a deal with Michael Andretti last year to make sure that Fernando Alonso had a ride with a strong Honda-powered team. The result was that Stefan Wilson lost his ride in last year’s “500” with Andretti.

But just because there have been precedents, does that make it right? Who decides what driver is worth the price of either buying a ride for, or sacrificing someone else’s ride?

The criteria would have to be; does the driver in question move the needle significantly enough to justify maneuvering another driver out of their planned ride – a ride they had possibly worked a year or more to attain?

While some may think that Alonso attracted little attention, that is not the case. While his presence caused little more than a ripple among US fans, his participation in last year’s “500” caused quite a stir worldwide. Stefan Wilson was the good soldier and sacrificed his ride for the good of the race – not that he really had much of a choice in the matter.

Somewhere I read that there are already something like thirty-one car and driver combinations for this year’s Indianapolis 500 already and it’s only mid-January. If the series does step in and secure a ride for Patrick, will it be at the expense of another driver or would it be an additional ride that a team had not counted on?

More than likely, I’m guessing that Danica Patrick will think she deserves something better than a rag-tag crew of previously unemployed slappies that was thrown together at the last minute. Chip Ganassi probably already knows if he is going to run a third or possibly fourth car at Indianapolis, in addition to the two he is already running for Scott Dixon and Ed Jones. If he is, he’s probably already got most, if not all, of the crews for the extra cars lined up.

Chip Ganassi is a shrewd businessman. It would not be out of character for him to say it’s not going to happen with Danica, simply to force the series’ hand to foot the bill themselves.

Danica Patrick will probably feel she has earned the right to be with a front-running team. With Penske and Andretti having ruled her out early along with Rahal and Schmidt – that pretty well leaves Ganassi as her most likely destination. But with Ganassi saying recently that it probably won’t happen – that puts the pressure on IndyCar to make sure it does.

If you listened to Trackside last might, you know that Curt Cavin thinks that the most likely destination for Patrick is Bobby Rahal’s team. After all, that is where she got her start, and Rahal has run three cars before even though it’s been a while. Since Cavin now works for the series and was a career journalist before that, chances are good that he might be on to something.

But do I think IndyCar should do whatever it takes to make sure that Danica Patrick gets to make her racing farewell at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500? No, I do not.

I am probably in the minority with that stance. It’s not that I’m anti-Danica. It’s that I’m against the series choosing which driver is worthy of their help and which is not. With Conor Daly’s step-father serving as President of IMS, you would think that the series might take steps to help him over others. Unfortunately for Daly, his association with Doug Boles may actually hurt him because they are probably going out of their way to prevent any type of appearance of favoritism or nepotism. But if I’m being honest, if IndyCar is going to help a driver – I’d much rather it be to get Daly in a fulltime car over Danica Patrick getting a farewell platform for the “500”.

There are other drivers – past and present – who have been more deserving of help and got none. Why should Danica Patrick, who left IndyCar for greener pastures in 2011, get to come back and make her final big splash. Shouldn’t that help be for struggling but promising young drivers, instead of those heading off into the sunset that are seeking one final moment of glory? How about putting that money to help some of the MRTI drivers that are being overlooked by the owners?

If Danica Patrick can put together a program and get into a car from Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal or anyone else – that’s great! More power to her. She will have done it like Stefan Wilson, Pippa Mann, Jack Harvey and any other driver that has been beating the bushes for sponsorship for the past year. But if IndyCar steps up and hands Ganassi, Rahal or any other willing owner, a big check just to guarantee that Danica Patrick gets to be in the field for the Indianapolis 500 – I’ve got a big problem with that. I just don’t think she moves the needle that much anymore.

George Phillips

27 Responses to “Should IndyCar Foot The Bill For Danica?”

  1. That’s a big old “Hell No” from me. Let her find her own sponsors if she’s such a big deal!

    George, I think you neglected to mention she’s having the same problem in NAPCAR. Last I read no one is stepping up to give her a free ride there either for Daytona.

    I agree with you, George. If INDYCAR gives a free 500 ride to anyone, it should be someone from the feeder series to give them a shot at the 500. Not a hasbeen.

  2. M.Lawrenson Says:

    From a business point of view, if IndyCar think that Danica will add a few digits to the TV ratings (and thus pairs of eyes to the commercials and sponsors) and a few thousand more fans through the gates of IMS then, hasbeen or no, they should pony up and help bankroll her ride. Is it fair on those drivers climbing the ladder and looking for their shot? No, but that’s the commercial reality of racing in 2018.

    Of course, if Danica turns out not to add the requisite numbers then IndyCar will deserve the flak that will come their way. But if there’s potential profit in it, then they should try it. I’m sure the number crunchers and bean counters are working on this as I type.

  3. While I watch more NASCAR than IndyCar, I wouldn’t mind seeing her in this year’s race. I’m not a huge Danica fan but I think there would still be a lot of fans that would enjoy seeing one last hurrah.

  4. Very well said George.

    She’s joined the ranks of the ride buyers much like everyone else who doesn’t drive for the big 3.

    She DOES, however, have a big enough bank account to buy her own way into the big show. If she wants to go out with a big bang she should pony up the big bucks herself.

  5. colum1357 Says:

    Of course they should pay for her ride. Put a big ol’ red ribbon and a Clabber Girl logo on a car and give it to her. It’s business.

  6. I am not a Danica fan however her name recognition with the general non racing fan public will bring the event more attention. Any new interest is better than not. If IndyCar puts money into funding a ride I would consider it event promotion expense. I would assume Patrick would generate more airtime for the event than Connor. I would prefer Connor have a full time ride but agree he is being penalized for being Mr Bowles step son. Life isn’t fair.

    If Patrick doesn’t get a ride it will not be a loss to me in my only encounter with her I found her rude. I do recall seeing her early in her career running a lower formula car for Rahal at Mid Ohio and at the time thought her a pretty good road racer.

  7. Completely agree, George. I have no feelings about her being in the race one way or another. I do not like what I perceive as her sense of entitlement that she has to have a competitive ride. I don’t think the ROI for IndyCar will be worth it.

  8. I’ve really not been a Danica fan so It’s not a big deal to me if she is in the race or not. But what does bother me is this exposes continued problems with Indycar. That someone has such a strong desire to be in the race, a veteran of several years in Indycar, and she is finding there may be no way to put a plan together. That goes so against what Indy always was.

    Tony George tried to tackle some of these problems head on, but unfortunately failed for a number of reasons.

    The cost to run in Indy in May (and in the other races) is a big part of this. Cost is a huge problem in Indycar and is a big part of why we will be fortunate to more than 33-35 cars try to qualify for the 500.
    The F1 Lite mentality must be the big reason that Indy Lights and other American series drivers seem to be overlooked for European or other F1 drivers. It looks bad when an Indycar and Nascar veteran can’t get a ride while others you mentioned are.

    I don’t think Indycar should pay the tab for her to race. Yes I think it will look bad, but I hope it highlights existing problems that has been hurting Indycar since long before now.

  9. If she wants to be in the Indy 500, why doesn’t she step up andhelp fund her own team? Let’s be honest -do you think she’s more than a little surprised that teams are not clamoring to sponsor her? I think in her mind, she’s surprised. I feel like she thinks she’s entitled to a top-tier ride for her final send off. I do not think the Hulmans should step up and find her. The money train days of the Hulman family funding teams is is slowly drying up .

  10. Bruce Waine Says:

    From Robin Miller’s Mailbag today – January 17th

    “RM: When you score the lowest TV rating of all time like Indy did in 2017, naturally IMS and IndyCar are looking for a way to attract viewers and they believe Danica will move the needle.

    I think her presence will get a bump from the print/social media, but don’t think it’s going to make much difference for television.

    The numbers flatlined during her last couple years in IndyCar and I’m not sure enough people still care about her to make a difference.

    But I do believe IndyCar will foot the bill to make sure she’s got a decent ride in May.”

  11. Bruce Waine Says:

    A perspective that a fan might not be aware of are the professional comments that Sam Schmidt released this past week regarding the reasons that his team could not support Danica as a 2018 INDY 500 entry.

    Sam’s comments were ones that I had not previously considered but are very reasonable and very frank from a management point of view.

    Have attached Sam’s comments below:

    ‘As for the rumours regarding Patrick, Sam stated that whilst there hadn’t been any talks between SPM and Danica, he had concerns regarding the huge publicity and expectation that would come hand in hand with signing Patrick for her last race.’

    “We haven’t really had any conversations about it, I know she’s talked to a few teams,” continued Schmidt,

    “I don’t know, we kind of evaluate it as too much of a distraction with all the fanfare and everything that goes along with it. So it’s not really high on our list, that’s for sure.

    I think she’ll do an excellent job, she’ll float back in where she was before but it’s all the stuff that comes up with it.”

    Above from the article – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports refute rumours of Patrick / Montoya Indy 500 entry – Indycar – The Checkered Flag

  12. billytheskink Says:

    I think most folks, including folks from IMS and the series itself, don’t particularly care for using IMS/series money to fund teams and drivers on principle. This practice has been confirmed or strongly rumored to have taken place many times in recent (and not-so-recent) history, however, as a tool for enticing talent or filling grids.

    Given this precedent, there is a fair pragmatic argument that Danica Patrick should be at or near the top of the list of drivers that the series ought to help get into a car at the 500. Danica does, after all have a history of drawing television viewers at Indy. She continued to move merchandise even as her NASCAR career withered (it was one place she still finished top 10) and, with her intent to retire after the 500, she has a story to sell. The benefits to the 500 with Danica in a car are apparent and may well be worth the cost.

    And to be fair to Danica in all of this, this whole conversation is speculation, reasonable though it may well be. We don’t really know what, if anything, she has asked for or “demanded”. All we know is that she wants to and has planned to race and that those plans have not yet come to fruition. Whether she is or is not at Daytona and Indy this year, we likely will not get the official story of how it all got paid for/fell apart anyways.

  13. NYET ! Not like the series lacking talented worthy drivers with better skill sets the Danica in 2018 . If she gets some cash fine , Take a ride . Indianapolis should be a beast this May with the new kits on the cars . Indycar can pay for a ride in the freedom 100 plus and Danica can drive the pace car on race day is the best deal I could offer Danica in May 2018.

  14. Never was a fan never will be. I think the racing community has simply started to look at her as high maintenance and not worth the few extra non race fans she brings to the table.

  15. H.B. Donnelly Says:

    Any owner would look at Danica’s past record at both Daytona and Indianapolis and say “Of course! Now who’s footing the bill?”

    Remember, the 8 and 83 from Ganassi (and, presumably, the Carlin cars) has a lot of money from driver’s personal sponsors. He’d gladly field any car that someone found the funding for.

    Same with Schmidt: media and fan distractions suddenly don’t affect you as much when you’re taking a couple million dollars to the bank.

    My dark horse in all of this is Dale Coyne. Not for the 19 TBA car, but for a fourth (fifth? ninth?) entry.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Schmidt’s apparent willingness to deal with Didier Calmels on the now-scuttled Tristan Gommendy deal does make his words on Danica ring a bit hollow.

  16. I don’t think IndyCar should fund specific teams or drivers over and above others, but they have in the past so apparently they are open to it. If they “helped” Alonso make the race then helping Danica make the race too is a no-brainer. Danica is a shrewd business woman. I would imagine this Danica Double plan has been in the works for months prior to her announcement and nothing that’s happening right now is a surprise to her.

  17. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Anyone have Dick Simon’s phone number?

  18. (CAL) LDA-NICA

  19. Thanks for the mention, George. Perhaps I didn’t make my point as clear as I should have: Yes, I AM a Danica fan. I have defended her record at Indy to anyone who will listen and quite a few who won’t.

    Aside from Danica, however, there’s a two-time WINNER of the race who may be similarly rideless. Whether or not the series should “buy” either of the two, Danica or Juan Montoya a ride isn’t my premise; rather, it’s WHY “Driver Who?” gets a ride when two well qualified one-offs do not?

    While I’m not as big a fan of Juan Montoya (and that may well be where one of Chip Ganassi;s “spare” cars goes,) I CAN tell you that at least two people, myself and a certain novelist and ex-blogger from Iowa bought tickets for this year’s race shortly after Danica’s announcement. Hell, I’m even coming out of my “retirement” to drive Uber to pay for the trip.

    And though Danica may not move the needle as much as she once did, I can easily look ahead and see the same thing happening to Helio in another year or so. And frankly, that would be a shame.

    Skip Free
    @SkipinSC

  20. You are not moving my needle here today George. It’s a no-brainer. Get her in the race! As I have suggested here before, go to YouTube for the 15 second recording of cheers from the south stands when fans realized she had taken the lead at the 2005 500. That is the loudest sustained cheer I have ever heard at any sporting event ever.

  21. Welp, GoDaddy just announced they’re paying for the DanicaDouble, but she still has no one willing to give her a car. AP confirms the Chipster said no deal.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      $ponsorship $itutuation Resolved From RACER website:

      Danica Patrick will end her motor sports career competing with a sponsorship she’s most recognized for – GoDaddy.

      The company announced Thursday it will back Patrick’s ventures in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The effort has been called the “Danica Double.”

  22. Bruce Waine Says:

    Opening the Door…………………… at Ganassi Racing ?

    Will be interesting to look back in a month or so to observe if the GoDaddy sponsorship is/was sufficiently attractive to re-open the door at Ganassi Racing……………. :o)

  23. I find it hilarious that she announced the was running these races and has no ride! I hope the gets one and she will with that Go Daddy money, but then, I will be glad to be rid of her….

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