As the driving force behind Danica Patrick’s ascension to Indy Car and now NASCAR stardom, Bobby Rahal is uniquely positioned to comment on the effect that the diminutive driver had on open-wheel racing – and on how the sport is affected by her departure to the stock-car world.
“At least we get to focus on the racing now, and the people who are here, who are damn good drivers,” Rahal said in a press conference today. “The other drivers that were here didn’t get the attention they should have gotten. Now we get to get back to what it’s all about, which is great racing.”
Patrick wore Rahal Letterman colors on her meteoric rise to racing fame, including carrying the iconic team marks to the cover of Sports Illustrated, which had been verboten to Indy Car drivers for the 10 years prior to her arrival. And while her arrival to the series brought a ton of much-needed publicity to the sport, Rahal believes that the benefits of that spotlight obscured the brilliance of the rest of the paddock.
“It was a ying and a yang. Danica did great things for this series, but I think oftentimes perhaps at the expense of the series,” said Rahal. “Maybe we don’t have that great personality which now NASCAR has, whether it’s (Dale) Earnhardt or herself. In the end, I wish her well. Now it’s all about the racing, which to me is what it all should have been about in the first place. There’s a lot of stories that are very important. People will say the racing is not as good as it was in the heyday of CART. I totally disagree. I think the driver level today is as good or greater than it was during the height of the series in the late 1990s, early 2000s."