Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where Will Danica Land?

Okay, let's just assume that Danica Patrick is coming to NASCAR.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt Patrick's interest in driving stock cars, but for the sake of discussion, let us assume that her new agents -- the high-powered IMG Sports Marketing Agency -- have finally convinced her that NASCAR is indeed the land of milk and honey.

If Patrick does elect to jump the fence, she will instantly rival Dale Earnhardt, Jr., as NASCAR's most visible (and talked about) star, in addition to tripling her already lofty annual income in one fell swoop. But where would she land? Which NASCAR team would be willing -- and able -- to field cars for Patrick and guide her through what certainly would be a difficult transition from open wheels to full fenders?

The possibilities are numerous.

Patrick drove a Daytona Prototype owned by Richard Childress Racing in this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona. However, RCR is currently at the four-team limited mandated by NASCAR, and would have to release either Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer or Casey Mears to make room for Patrick.

Back in 2006, Roush-Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush tendered an open invitation for Patrick to drive for him, anytime she wanted. If that offer still stands -- and there is no reason to believe it does not – Roush would have to create room in an already overcrowded shop for Danica. Roush-Fenway already fields five Sprint Cup teams for drivers Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, David Ragan and Jamie McMurray. One of those drivers will move across the parking lot to Yates Racing next season to satisfy NASCAR’s four-team cap, and adding Patrick to the mix will crowd the equation even further.

Hendrick Motorsports shares a sponsor -- -– with Patrick, and pre-sponsored drivers are a luxury in NASCAR these days. Like Childress, however, Rick Hendrick is already at the four-team limit, and would have to jettison Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to make room for Danica. While Martin is expected to cut back to a part-time schedule in 2011, Brad Keselowski is waiting in the wings to replace him.

Stewart-Haas Racing – a Hendrick satellite team -- could provide a home for Patrick, without forcing Rick Hendrick to fire anyone.

However, the most likely spot for Patrick to land is Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR is also represented by IMG Sports Marketing, and Danica tested a Nationwide Series car for the team in 2002. Most importantly, JGR has plenty of room for a fourth Sprint Cup Toyota under NASCAR's four-team cap, and coach Joe Gibbs has long said that he would like to add that fourth car, if the circumstances were right. A driver of Patrick's caliber -- complete with sponsorship -- is simply too good for JGR to pass up.

Is Danica serious about NASCAR this time around? It's impossible to say. But if she does opt for a change of racing venue in 2010, she will have no shortage of suitors.

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