Ingram's Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram
DANICA GAINING MO'
The reason I like Danica Patrick is because she's talented, ambitious, gutsy and different. She's like a savvy quarterback in the NFL, a brilliant point guard in the NBA or a showboat Major League slugger. Patrick makes things happen that wouldn't ordinarily take place.
This week for example, I checked out the SI swimsuit issue online for the first time in my 57 years.
But seriously, folks, I stopped at the home page where Patrick looks to be playing Cleopatra to see if it was too cheesy for words. Almost.
According to the beloved Internet at many locations, several very important careers now depend on Danica Patrick's whereabouts in 2010, including those of IRL founder Tony George, IMG exec George Pyne (whose company is handling her contract) and NASCAR's Brian France.
At least Ken Anderson, founder of a fledgling American Formula One team, no longer has to answer to the petit Patrick. She's taken herself out of the running for F-1. It's beyond her comfort zone.
From what can be gleaned from the swimsuit issue, there's not much out of her comfort zone. Patrick certainly enjoys leveraging her assets as a skilled, attractive female race car driver. As one of her biographers, I can tell you she has improved as a model from her early days of just trying to get employed with photo layouts in places like FHM magazine.
Can you imagine what life would be like were Danica built like, say, Linda Vaughn? And if she ran around like Alex Rodriguez?
Jeez. We'd be back in the days of Joe Namath and Bachelor's III.
It's bad enough she made a standard racing joke about it's not cheating if you don't get caught in reference to a question about illegal, performance enhancing drugs. Oops. Now Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, is calling in addition to everybody in the known racing world who has a sponsor idea or available racing car.
Otherwise, Danica is like the girl next door who likes to wear a small bathing suit at the local swimming club. It raises a few eyebrows and heartbeats, but otherwise it's good clean, flirtatious fun. She is dedicated to life with her husband and family of father, mother and sister. And to winning races.
In retrospect, Patrick has come a long way from just three years ago, when one pundit at Indy said it was the first time Danica could be accused of having a bad chassis.
Patrick's current contract pursuit raises a lot of hackles in NASCAR land because she has enough presence and skill to suggest a possible career driving stock cars. If the rumors posing as reportage are close to accurate -- it's like an entourage chasing Jeff Gordon with tripping and shouting everywhere -- she's being shopped all over the garage.
More good clean fun, because for once NASCAR is not top of the charts in the realm of U.S. racing. Instead, the bandying by journalists of the possibility of Danica going NASCAR has led to the perspective that the stock car guys need her to get out of a recent slump. If so, the slump is worse than anything fallen baseball slugger Andruw Jones has experienced and NASCAR might as well stop checking its pulse.
Patrick does make things happen. Three decades ago, the hierarchy as NASCAR was going everything possible to put hurdles in front of Janet Guthrie, lest the world think driving a stock car was as easy as driving an Indy car.
The correlary to the current "NASCAR needs her" suggestion is that IndyCar will thrive if she stays. And, indeed it would benefit, because Patrick is not a novelty, rather an unusual amalgamation of a solid personality, good looking young woman and skilled race car driver now coming into her own.
Behind the curtain, one imagines that manufacturers are the source of the biggest possible paycheck for Patrick. If so, then forget NASCAR, where the last one to get a sudden checking account boost from Detroit for quite some time was Tony Stewart. What about Toyota, you say? There's likely no room at the inn at Joe Gibbs Racing for those who pose at SI.com. According to the world of Danica as we know it, the choice is either cut to the front or drop out of line all together.
In IndyCar, there's active talk of more than one manufacturer joining Honda, a manufacturer where Patrick is a mainstay in advertising. Will Honda pony up to maintain that association? If new manufacturers are on the horizon, which teams will go where?
Personally, I'd like to see a contract that allows Patrick to do the Daytona 500, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24-hour in the same season. It's been a while since that's happened. Hell, I can't think of somebody who has done it other than A.J. Foyt in 1967 with the backing of Ford.
Like I say, Patrick makes things happen in ways that wouldn't happen otherwise. What a refreshing change for motor racing.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.