Good news, IRL-o-philes! Danica Patrick, erstwhile Maxim model, former winner of the informal "Most Awkward Cheesecake Photo Pose Ever," current Go-Daddy Girl and - oh yeah - racing driver, told Sports Illustrated's Bruce Martin that she is likely to stay in the IndyCar Series instead of making a rumored (and extremely ill-advised) move to NASCAR.
The onetime one-time IRL race winner and famed Indy 500 top-fiver has seen a breakthrough in negotiations with Andretti-Green Racing after it was announced this week that AGR will split its promotions arm off into a separate concern. According to Patrick, having to deal with AGR partners Kevin Savoree and Kim Green was one of the reasons why she was looking at tin-tops in the first place:
"Yes, I would prefer to talk to Mike than to Kevin because he is a larger owner in the team, and when I talk to Mike things get done... I believe his heart is in it and he has a passion for everything from the business to the driving side, and he can relate to what the driver does as well."Reading between the lines, of course, one gets the sense that Danica's asking price of $17 million for three seasons behind the wheel likely didn't go down Savoree's craw as smoothly as it might have Andretti's. Anyone connected to the IRL knows that, for better or for worse, Danica can write her own check because of the absolutely disproportionate level of exposure she generates for the league compared to virtually anything else besides the 500-mile race itself. But it is possible that Savoree, concerned with not only the competition side of the AGR business but also with its promotions arm and other assorted responsibilities, could have seen the giant chunk of cash destined for Ms. Hospenthal's bank accounts and had a minor bout of skepticism.
Michael Andretti, of course, knows that essentially his race team's financial survival could hinge on Danica's presence therein. AGR has struggled markedly this season after the "red car" teams of Penske and Ganassi took their game to a new level, and with Tony Kanaan's bad luck streak and the invisibility of both his son Marco and Hideki Mutoh, Danica has actually been the best driver on the team all year. So naturally it is in his best interests to get Danica signed as quickly as possible.
Danica, for her part, is not stupid. The actual likelihood of her becoming a NASCAR driver was about as probable as it was the last time she was up for contract - which is to say, not very likely at all. While Danica has as healthy an ego as any superstar athlete, she is also possessed of at least a baseline amount of common sense, and that common sense says that her choices were either to be a contender in the IRL or to cool her heels in NASCAR's minor leagues for a while before "proving herself" to the stock-car community. She is no fool - she has seen what has happened to her confreres who have tried to make the Big Leap to the Big Time, and at this point only Sam Hornish looks to be within sniffing distance of success after a couple of years of struggling and dues-paying.
In short, the Fanica Panicka about her defection was likely a wee bit overblown.
Still, while it is probably not a "big public relations victory" for the IRL as Martin suggests, it's still good news that their most relevant driver will be back in their most relevant race next year. If a Savoree-less AGR can get their program back on track, she might even be a favorite to win the Borg-Warner Trophy. At the end of the day, that's what matters most to Danica.