Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The New Face of Toyota Racing?

Hot on the heels of Juan Palblo Montoya’s jump to NASCAR comes the news that hottie Indy Car racer Danica Patrick might make the jump at the end of the Indy Racing League season. SI.com has a Reuters article about it you can read here, although there isn’t much to it.

Wanting to know more about this story, I went to THE site with all the latest NASCAR news and gossip. Jayski.com, but didn’t get much more. Here’s what Jayski, courtesy of an Orlando Sentinal article, had to say: “Danica Patrick could become the next star driver to defect from another major racing series to NASCAR.”I'm trying to get her here [into NASCAR]," said T.J. Patrick, father of the woman who dazzled the motor racing world last year by nearly winning the Indianapolis 500, but has struggled with a mediocre Indy Racing League car ever since. T.J. Patrick, who has managed his daughter's career since her childhood, was at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, holding exploratory talks with some Nextel Cup teams and sponsors about the possibility of Danica leaving the IRL for NASCAR as early as next year. Her contract expires with the IRL's Rahal-Letterman Racing team, co-owned by TV comic David Letterman, at the end of this season. In addition to considering NASCAR, the Patricks are negotiating with other IRL teams -- and appear unlikely to renew with Rahal-Letterman next year. Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman racing, declined comment through a spokesperson. Danica, 24, wasn't at Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 NASCAR race. T.J. and Danica's mother, Bev, came to the Joliet track because "we've had some inquiries" from NASCAR teams, T.J. said. The Patricks were in the Nextel Cup garage area as guests of the powerful Roush Racing team, which fields five Ford teams.(Orlando Sentinel/Ed Hinton)(7-10-2006)”

Now, Danica in ROUSH is an interesting possibility because that’s one of the few teams that could give her equipment that really would negate much of the learning curve she’ll have to deal with. The only other team I can think of that might be able to offer that to her is Hendrick. I bet Mr. H is kicking himself for signing Mears to drive the 25 car right now. However, to be honest, I don’t see her going to ROUSH or Hendrick. Why? One word, Toyota.

That’s right kids, Totoya will make their much anticipated, or not anticipated at all depending on who you talk to, debut in NASCAR next year, which would supposedly coincide with Danica’s arrival. Toyota will be the first foreign car maker to run in a NASCAR cup and Busch series race. That’s a big shake up right there believe it or not. Imagine, if in addition to doing that, the face of Toyota racing isn’t Michael Waltrip (a funny, and popular, but second tier driver), but instead a woman, the aforementioned Danica Patrick. She’ll bring in the publicity, the attention, and I’d like to see her hawking Toyota’s in a nice black evening dress on TV.

I just don’t think she’ll fit as a Ford girl, or a Chevy girl, or, God forbid, a Dodge girl. A woman of her stature and popularity needs something new, something without 50 some odd years of all male dominance. She’s not going to get that with one of the other manufactures. The problem lies with the fact she’d be in a brand new car, on probably a new team, racing with second tier equipment. Eric Crocker lucked out getting in an Evernham ride, there isn’t a lot of long term development in women in NASCAR outside of Ray Ray’s little project with her right now. Danica might suffer big time if she’s stuck in shotty equipment that can’t finish a race, let alone run up front. It wouldn’t be fair to her, but then again life’s not fair.

All in all, watching her in a NASCAR will be a totally different experience. She’ll be hounded non stop, much more so than now, because NASCAR drivers are much more accessible to the fans than Indy Car drivers. And let’s face it, who watches Indy Car? I sure don’t. I don’t know anyone else who does. Hell, if it wasn’t for various sports shows covering them and catching the Indy 500 every year, I’d never see it at all. However, if Danica can get through that sort of grit and grime, then I’m positive she’s tough enough to take on a restrictor plate race or get down in the deep grooves of Bristol. NASCAR cars can take more of a beating than an Indy car because, well to put it simply, they have sides on their cars. Open wheel crashes go boom, NASCAR crashes go bang, big difference.

This would be a great chance for Toyota to really make a statement that they’re ready to do something different with NASCAR, right out of the gate. She could go to another, probably stronger team, and have good success. Not great, but probably good getting a top 20 finish for her first season. With a season or two under her belt on a decent team, the only thing stopping her would be her own talent, or lack thereof, and bad luck.




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