The Danica Enigma

Danica Patrick is probably the best known driver in the IndyCar Series to the general public and possibly even to the casual fan. Her PR machine together with her various semi risque photo shoots and Go-Daddy ads have made her face known to thousands of people. She almost certainly is the highest earner in IndyCar with an income up there with many regular NASCAR drivers. This from a driver who has only managed one win in her entire car racing career and that one was a result of good pit work and strategy plus Helio Castroneves running almost out of fuel. She never won on her way up through the minor leagues.

During her IndyCar career, until this year, she has been a high mid field runner most of the time, especially on the ovals.There have been several good results usually due to good strategy. She has always struggled to some extent on the road courses despite coming up through road racing rather than ovals. Her attitude has earned her several less than complimentary nicknames among serious fans. The most common are ‘The Princess’, ‘Stompin Danica’ and with her very poor showings in the Nationwide series ‘Princess Lapped a Lot’. Many people who follow racing closely are also joking about her constant ‘you know like’, ‘uh’ and during races ‘its loooose’!

Even more telling is the fact that she has had a different race stategist and race engineer every year in Indy Car. She is on both her second strategist and race engineer this year and more than one mechanic has refused to be on her team.

This year she seems to have regressed as a driver. Her performances on road courses have been terrible and except for Texas very mediocre on the ovals. Her reputation as a deliberate blocker is well known even blocking her own teamates on occasion. She is not and actually never has been a hard driver in the sense of racing people close for more than a lap or two. She then always backs out of it. For someone who came up through road racing her well known inability to set up her own car is puzzling. It seems that she has never made any effort to understand how to make adjustments to the handling and relies on her engineer or a teamate to do it for her. She demands a car that is tight or for road racing types a car that understeers. To some extent this works on the Indy Cars but she carries it to extremes and if a car gets the least bit loose she slows down and starts complaining.

Basically to get a stock car to go fast on an oval it has to be loose but she cannot accept this despite being told that she needs to learn to handle that. She just keeps demanding a tight car. Until she learns to handle a loose car she will never be fast in the Nationwide Series let alone be able to run in Sprint Cup. A couple of times this year she would not have even made a race on her qualifying speed but under NASCAR rules cars get in on owner points. The part time drivers that are put in her Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered #7 have finished high enough up to keep it in the points. Canadian J.R. Fitzpatrick finished 7th in Montreal this weekend so the car is safely in for a while.

Again she has not even bothered to learn the most basic facts about the design of the cars and only learned at the last race about the ‘truck bars’ a standard feature of a stocker and adjustment of same is one way of altering the handling. Now drivers do not have to be mechanics but they need to know what can be altered and what effect it will have. Every driver I ever worked with understood the basics of set ups, some far more than others.

Again as mentioned above she does not like to run close to other cars for more than a lap or two and in the stockers you absolutely have to run inches apart for lap after lap. These days practically all Indy Car drivers and the vast majority of NASCAR drivers work out and have training programs. As far as I have been able to ascertain she does not.

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Despite all of the negatives she has been a fairly quick driver and obtained some good results. She is with one of the top teams in Indy Car and again a far better funded Nationwide car that most of the cars in that series. But this year the results have not been there in Indy Car and even worse in the stockers. She actually seems to be more interested in photo ops and getting on TV. She is even going to be on an upcoming ‘Simpsons’ episode!

I expect her rides are secure as long as Go-Daddy keeps writing the cheques. However her race TV exposure is getting less on the Versus Indy Car broadcasts as they are more or less ignoring her. ABC/ESPN are still fawning over her but not quite as much. If the coverage really drops off so will sponsor interest.

To me the big puzzle is why she has never made the least effort to understand the whys and wherefores of car handling. Nor does she seem to be able to relate to her mechanics. If the car and/or the race does not go her way she has often publically dumped on her team. Not a good way to make them want to work hard for you. So why has she become a poorer driver this year? I do not have the answer but I forsee her being out of racing in a year or two unless she does regain the form she has displayed previously. I do not think she will ever be a real front runner but she should be more competative than she currently is.

Comments

  1. says

    I've been on the fence for some time where Danica is concerned. True, she could be a more successful driver, but at least she's no Milka Duna.

    That said, the Toronto Indy weekend this year began with a Danica press conference in which she sounded rather vacant. Other than being a photo op, there was really no point to the presser.

    I will say that Patrick's post race activities impressed the hell out of me. Following a decent drive, she stayed in pit lane to talk with fans and sign autographs. In fact, she put on a performance that a fan fave like John Force would have been proud of. Not only was she the last driver in pit lane, she was the only one I saw interacting with the fans and was one of the last IndyCar people still there even once the Trans Am cars hit the track.

    One thing that too many athletes still don't recognize is the fact that corporate partnerships are formed based on what they can offer their partners. Win, lose or crash doesn't really matter as long as an athlete has the power to keep engaging eyeballs and wallets.

  2. Mark in Oshawa says

    Gary, if she spent more time in Pit lane than the others, that is a change. When she first was coming to Toronto, I didn't see that.

    The points Leighton make are all valid though, and that is the meat and potatoes of it. Danica refuses to do the spade work and educate herself and adapt to the car. She keeps trying to impose her way on things..and it isn't working.

    It is the real story. Danica isn't a great race driver. Race drivers adapt and do what it takes to make the car faster and do what it takes to win. Danica wont put the time in, wont educate herself and wont take the appropriate risks. Hard to respect a driver who wont do it….if she was a hockey player, we would say she wont go in the corners, isn't a team player and wont back check. How long do you play in the NHL with those credentials if you don't score?

  3. says

    This is an interesting perspective on Danica, and you've hit the nail on the head of something that I've been noticing perhaps subconsciously as I've been watching her race. I've felt something is missing from her that should be there, and you've succinctly pointed out what it is.

    Now on her behalf, I WILL say that Andretti Autosport overall has been a disappointment this season, but Danica has been lagging behind her lagging team-mates. But you've got this pretty much spot on. Now I understand what I probably already knew.

  4. Charlie says

    Danica definitely gets more attention than her driving talents alone merit. However, this article is very ill-informed and cherry-picks facts. Danica has been a consistent performer in her IndyCar series career, and usually out-performed her teammates. In 2005 she outperformed Buddy Rice, and Vitor Meira, two drivers that have great records (and Rice won 4 races in 2004), and that was her rookie season. Last year, she finished 5th in points, the best finish of her 4 teammates and the top driver that is not in a Ganassi or Penske ride.

    AGR is pathetic this year, and Danica is struggling along with them. That said, I do agree that she is not a technical enough driver and that is her main weakness. I believe she can drive a car well and race well (do not agree with the comment that she never races hard, and find it baseless and misinformed). But she cannot provide the level of technical driver feedback that a driver should at the top level. This makes her very reliant on her teammates to set up a fast car for her. If that doesn't happen, she struggles.

    • Dave says

      Danica could be a very good driver but she is to busy being a celebraty. She out raced TK at homestead but she is not going to risk her body or face just to win a race. By the time the money drys up she will have lost a second & it will be to late. If Samona got a good ride she would put alot of presure on Danica but that probably won't happen. Can you imagine Red bull with a indy car & somona driving for them. By by Danica

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