NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bowles-Eye View: NASCAR’s Danica Domino

Every year, the stack of dominoes known as NASCAR’s Silly Season needs a major talent to come tip the scales. In order for there to be movement among teams, especially in an era where new owners and opportunities are going the way of the dinosaur there needs to be a spark in the form of a dissatisfied or underperforming driver.

We saw it in 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s decision to leave his family’s team causing a volcano that erupted through half of NASCAR’s Cup Series. By the time the smoke cleared, in February ’08 the sport’s Most Popular Driver was paired with its Most Powerful Owner; around them, nearly half the weekly Cup roster had changed rides. We saw it last year, one of the smallest crops of free agents in recent memory when Carl Edwards decided his tenure at Roush Fenway Racing had come to a close. His move to Joe Gibbs Racing, a clear-cut decision that had been in the works for months, became one of the few notable changes in a Silly Season hampered by long-term contracts.

So who will be this year’s spark, the match that lights the keg of driver dynamite on pink slips and resignations? The answer brings us to one of Sunday’s underreported stories: Danica Patrick.

It’s hard to believe the sport’s GoDaddy girl, the queen known for generating headlines would get lost in the shuffle. But a NASCAR Drivers’ Council, the feel-good victory of the season and even tunnel turn bumps made her a bit of an afterthought at Pocono. More attention was given to boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s wreck Sunday than Patrick’s mistake off turn 3, a drifting into the outside wall that led to a cut tire and a day destroyed just a few seconds later. In fact, more attention was given to a late-race spin, one that didn’t draw out the caution flag with her battered racecar coming to pit road instead of the battering she took into the turn 1 wall just moments before.

On paper, the bad day didn’t seem like a big deal. A 37th-place finish is all too familiar on Patrick’s Cup resume, especially at Pocono where she’s never run better than 29th. But NASCAR’s lone full-time Cup female, searching desperately for 2016 sponsorship was running with a major bargaining chip in her hand: staying on the verge of Chase contention. Late in the race, she was solidly in position to score a top 10 on a day where drivers on the edge of the postseason (Paul Menard, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman) suffered disastrous luck. Indeed, had Patrick cashed in on a seventh-place finish, where she’d been much of the race that would leave her 17th in points, just 16 behind Newman and bring merit to that playoff case.

Instead? The Pocono wreck all but killed it. Patrick now sits 20th in points, having her best year in Cup by far but now 46 points behind Newman for the last spot in the Chase. Among those above her now are two drivers – Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer – who appear close to getting their act together. Add in a potential shrinking bubble, in the form of Kyle Busch winning a race of his own and a Chase bid for Patrick now seems near impossible. She’d have to gain nearly four points on her rivals each weekend or (gulp) win a race. With her track record, despite a year of improvement even Victory Lane at Daytona seems out of reach.

WINNINGHAM: Michael Waltrip Racing Tries To Boost Bowyer, Swaps Crew Chiefs

That leaves her employer, Stewart-Haas Racing, faced with a clear choice: search for sponsorship, keeping Patrick in the fold through a contract extension or let her go. The answer isn’t as clear-cut as you think. Keep in mind Earnhardt, despite his popularity, had races go unsponsored in 2014; Patrick isn’t exactly that competitive by comparison. Her branding with GoDaddy has faded, making it easy for the domain provider to let her go and at age 33 straddles the line between “young gun” and “over the hill.” Committing to her now for several more years may be too much of a project, especially with co-owner Gene Haas obsessed with Kurt Busch and his soon-to-be Formula 1 program, a team which Patrick has been ruled out of driving for. Considering Haas pays for one team out of his own pocket, I’m sure he’s hardly concerned with how marketable Patrick remains and how revenue compares to her peers. It’s money he doesn’t need.

The plot thickens when you realize that among the sport’s top programs, SHR is the only one in position to open up a spot on their roster. Consider the situations of the following teams below…

Hendrick Motorsports: Long-term deals for Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne. Jimmie Johnson, signed through 2015 or ’16 isn’t going anywhere (extension pending) and Chase Elliott is already set to replace Jeff Gordon.

Joe Gibbs Racing: Denny Hamlin came out recently and said he’s signed through 2016. That was the only question on a driving roster that has Kyle Busch, Edwards and Matt Kenseth under contract through at least ’16.

Team Penske: Owner Roger Penske, having locked up “young guns” Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski for several more years, has outright refused to expand his program beyond two cars. If Ryan Blaney gets a full-time ride next year it’ll be with the satellite Wood Brothers team, not with them.

Richard Childress Racing: Newman is signed through 2016, as is Menard. The Dillon brothers, Childress’s grandkids will be in the fold until the team folds. Simple as that.

Stewart-Haas Racing: Tony Stewart, despite his struggles is the owner and dedicated to turning his team around. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, putting top-five finishes on the board virtually every week, aren’t going anywhere.

Those teams represent 17 cars, by and large the entire field of drivers not named Truex in contention to win the Chase. Everyone else is a rung below, to the point any movement among drivers would be less newsworthy and not altogether unexpected. But even in that “middle-tier” group, you have drivers like AJ Allmendinger that just signed a contract extension with JTG Daugherty Racing through 2020. Jamie McMurray, on a year-to-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing, seems predestined to stay there; he’s seventh in the current Cup standings.

It all adds up to a quiet Silly Season if Patrick stays put. You could be in a situation where Gordon becomes the only top-25 driver to shift rides for 2016 (retirement), leaving Elliott as the lone rookie and the lone storyline. Except… that never ends up the way Silly Season plays out. Athletes, along with their owners are on a constant search for competitive edge. When there’s a chance to make their team better, they go for it.

It looks like the odds, in all reality are 50/50. Patrick has a good rapport with the SHR program and gets along surprisingly well with crew chief Daniel Knost, a pairing that felt like a throwaway when Tony Gibson was ripped away last fall. This year, there has clearly been growth, new rules and top-tier setups helping Patrick advance up the ladder. But stats on paper would still tell you kicking Patrick out, giving her a fresh start elsewhere gives SHR a chance to be a better team. It also might put them in position to grab a driver they want long-term, even if under contract elsewhere through 2016 with the way they’re peaking in the Cup Series. Who wouldn’t want to jump ship and join a program where its top driver, reigning Cup champion Harvick, just tied a NASCAR record for top-two finishes through 14 races? (He’s got 10.) Hamlin was once rumored to go here and keep in mind Newman, once an SHR driver, has Ty Dillon underneath him who’s openly struggling to get sponsorship to move up to Cup. Moving him out, however unlikely that sounds right now could make it easier for Childress to get the setup he needs.

So if Patrick did get shifted out, starting the dominoes where would she end up? The answer, as always these days hinges on sponsorship, but keep in mind Michael Waltrip Racing has one of the few turnkey deals remaining in Aaron’s. Patrick, if she can’t attract sponsorship could go to the No. 55 car, get paired with a similar marketing genius in Mr. Waltrip and stay afloat in NASCAR while rebuilding her brand. MWR gets itself a personality to pair with another unique driver in Bowyer and has the tools to stay relevant – even if the on-track results are far from ideal. There are other potential options as well (Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports), but none of them feel like remotely the right fit.

All of it right now, let me make perfectly clear is educated guess speculation. But what we do know for sure is none of the other dominoes start falling in NASCAR Silly Season 2015 until Patrick makes her move. Sunday made it clear, at least to me that SHR won’t get the Chase bid they need to sell sponsorship for the No. 10, making their move to keep Patrick that much more difficult. Will they keep her around or will they part ways? The answer could come sooner when we think; and once it does, we’ll know quickly just how big this row of dominoes will actually get.

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kb

…The sane wish “Danica” was underreported story. God do we wish she was.

kb

I know checks from a sponsor is the name of the game to keep to door open for these race teams, but her everything offends me. Her brand and her talent are two different things, I look to see a performance on a race track not what garbage she is selling wearing a bikini draped over a hood. It’s sad, as she really is not equipped to be on a marque team, she just cannot “race” and be competitive with the names mentioned, sorry whether you like MWR or not, they aren’t doing great right now at all, but they have a big presence. Now if she drove for the back marker teams and her name wasn’t mentioned like their drivers are not, then have fun and good luck!

Bill B

“the stack of dominoes known as NASCAR’s Silly Season needs a major talent to come tip the scales”

LMAO that anyone could use the term “major talent” and then discuss Danica’s contract situation. Her only talent is,,,, well I’ll let someone else fill in the blank….

JohnQ

Her major talent is the same as Paul Menard’s, the ability to bring in enough dollars to keep a team afloat.

Glen H.

I have to disagree with you on that JohnQ. Menard’s daddy is the sponsor so Paul doesn’t need talent to bring in sponsorship dollars, just a billionaire daddy.

Danica, on the other hand, needs to go out and hustle for sponsorship which she really hasn’t had to do in years. It’ll be interesting to see if Danica can attract a big dollar sponsorship with NASCAR’s TV ratings and attendance dropping.

JohnQ

Interesting observation but let’s take it a step farther. Will ANYONE attract big dollar sponsorship if NASCAR’s TV ratings and attendance continue to steadily decline?

GinaV24

BZF seems to be able to attract lots of $ for the France family and NASCAR but the owners still seem to be struggling to get the $ in for their racing programs.

When drivers like Dale Jr and others haven’t got full time sponsorship, it seems to me that it is a bigger problem than people are paying attention to.

JohnQ, if they keep moving races more and more to cable channels that aren’t on people’s regular cable tier, the issue of ratings and eyeballs on the sport in general will continue to slide IMO. That would then also seem to indicate that why should sponsors pony up $ for teams and of course there is the “chase” effect. If you don’t make the chase, how much value do you lose from a sponsorship perspective?

salb

But, if Danica signed with MWR that would put her awfully close to DW. Watching how creepy he is around her, I wonder if she would be willing to take that chance.

JohnQ

I mentioned to my oldest daughter that watching Ol DW around Danica made my skin craw. She said that the recipe for CREEPY is to take one Sweet a Young Thing and place her in close proximity to one Aging Male that still thinks he’s “got it”!

JohnQ

I do not understand the Danica vitriol at all. Whatever her talent level she does give it all she has. Considering that NASCAR has about ten truly great drivers and 33 very good ones, what more can you ask? GoDaddy didn’t quit Danica, who is a money maker, they quit NASCAR which is increasingly less so. From a pure ” keep this race team afloat” perspective” if you cannot land one of the top ten why wouldn’t you sign Danica? She is a curiosity so of course she is, and will continue to be over covered. My “NASCAR is loud and stupid” daughter knows who Danica Patrick is. She couldn’t pick Jimmy Johnson out of a line up. Honestly, do you think there is an owner out there looking for less exposure in the constant hustle in a dwindling sponsor pool?

Bill B

I suppose if she wasn’t taking up a spot on a team that has the ability to run for championships if they could land one of those potential top ten drivers, then I see your point. So, with that in mind, if I were an owner that had no delusions of making the chase or winning a race (other than an RP crapshoot, fuel mileage or rain shortened race) then you are right, why not pick Danica.

Bringing in more money would be attractive to a back marker team or one short of funding that could raise the collective level of the organization.

Why the vitriol? You answered it yourself. Your daughter knows Danica and not Johnson. I bet she could pick out Kim Kardashian too if she were to drive. For people like me that want NASCAR to be like a real sport and not a reality television show, that’s where the vitriol comes from. I want people who are race car drivers first and celebrities 2nd.

kb

Well said Bill B…That is my deal too. Driver first celebrity second!!!!!!!!!!!!! The whole backwards garbage about her is, she came into the sport as a marketing tool, and gets touted as a driver. Backwards in a maddening way, imo of course.

GinaV24

Totally agree, Bill B and kb — driver first, then celebrity. When she came into IndyCar, I was certainly curious and followed her but when hype machine overwhelmed the results, I lost interest in her in that series. I started looked at Simona instead.

Having DP in NASCAR would have been fine IF she hadn’t been coddled so much with everyone making excuses and blaming someone else. She’s been in motorsports for long enough to produce results or be treated just like any other driver.

In many ways, Danica is the Kim Kardashian of motorsports.

JohnQ

Gina, That is my point exactly, when she first came in you checked her out. The last NASCAR t shirt I saw in public was a Danica shirt on a young girl. Maybe that girl also checks Danica out and we gain a fan. How many fans, or sponsors for that matter, have the other SHR drivers brought in? My “NASCAR is loud and stupid” daughter and her husband know Tony Stewart because they heard he killed another driver and Kurt Busch because they read that he beat up his girlfriend at Dover. How many people does that bring in. Like it or not from a pure exposure point of view Danica is good for NASCAR. No new fans, no new profits.

Bill B

John Q,
The people that only pay attention to NASCAR when someone is killed, or someone beats their wife, or someone’s a woman, or fans are hurt when a car goes into the catch fence are debatable as being fans at all. They are fans of tweets and trending viral topics, sensationalized headlines, and current events. They most likely won’t be fans for long and probably will move onto something else when the novelty wears off.
If you aren’t falling in love with the sport because of what’s happening in the average race week to week then you aren’t really a fan of the sport.
So, that’s what is bothering a lot of us old time fans. In order to get fans now NASCAR is selling it’s soul to the short-attention span, headline junkies that only follow something when it’s bright and shiny. Hence the comparison to sport vs reality television.

MBH

Exactly, Bill.

Tina Gordon was a race car driver. Shawna Robinson was a race car driver. There’s plenty to choose from. Danica was a media creation famous for sleezy commercials & magazine spreads.

russ

The loser in this scenario has never been Danica. She has the personal services contract with GoDaddy, as well as others. SHR however has been put on notice that they are losing the only complete series car sponsorship the organization had. Whether they get rid of Danica or not they need to bring in a lot of sponsorship dollars or contract to a 3 car team.
As I said Danica isn’t the loser in this piece.

Carl D.

I agree with Tom… I have nothing against Danica but at this point I don’t know what she brings to the table for a team like SHR. The novelty of having a woman driver has worn off and the sponsor that came with her is leaving. She’s probably never going to win a championship. Based on talent and ability alone, Patrick is just not that valuable. Unless her celebrity translates into money for an organization that needs it, she’s probably on her way out.

fan4jm

I think there are too many up & coming young drivers that I’d rather have than her. Blaney-Wallace JR – Jones just to name a few. they’re young & hungry & fearless – everything she’s not. I think they’d really shake up the racing & MAYBE even improve it.

Damon

Tom, remind me of all the sponsors that Kurt Busch is bringing in at SHR with all his success the past 2 years? Oh wait, you can’t because he hasn’t brought in any.

If anything, I believe Haas’ obsession with Kurt has done Danica no favors in terms of her growth as a stock car driver, see the crew switch for the last 3 races where Danica lost her crew chief (Gibson)/her pit crew/her race cars all to Kurt while Danica got a crew chief/pit crew/race cars that weren’t good enough for a former champion (Kurt), but was forced to be good enough for a driver (Danica) going into their third full-time season and a contract year.

Gf

They should be courting Denny Hamlin big time! I would pull for him again once he is no longer with Toyota and Gibbs. That would be a great lineup too.

GinaV24

John Q, I checked Danica out as a driver in Indycar, not when she came to NASCAR. By the time she had thrown various hissy fits in IndyCar and moved on to the “next big thing”, I was done with having any interest in her.

there were several other female drivers I would have liked to see have the same opportunity in Cup that she did with big $ sponsors and everyone falling all over themselves to support them. People like Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chrissy Wallace (and man I am NOT a fan of the Wallaces – ever) to name a couple.

So you are saying that your daughter’s level of interest in NASCAR only being toward the “headline” news which quite often is not positive but sensational and that’s is good enough because that means she’s aware of NASCAR? No disrespect to you or your daughter, but I just don’t see that as that much of a good thing. I have people I work with who are the same way. I get questions about Danica, about Kurt Busch and when the Tony Stewart accident happened, there were more of them. People know I follow NASCAR and wanted to know my opinion. I give it to them.

Personally I’d rather people were attracted to the sport because of the excitement of racing and the really fun stuff, not for things that make the tabloids. Unfortunately IMO NASCAR hasn’t done a darn thing to help those things be the focus, rather than the sensational type stories.

JohnQ

All I am saying is that people will never become fans of something they have never seen. If Danica causes a few people to take that initial look some might actually become fans. Tell me again how that is a bad thing.

kb

Not butting in here, but the problem is Nascar should want more than a “look” and a “look” is what people did regarding her entrance into the top level of Nascar. The 15 minute curious type “looked” and moved on to the next media generated freak show. The experiment did not generate any meaningful long term anything, other than a lingering distaste in true race fans mouths.

GinaV24

I understand that point, JohnQ but the problem is getting people to stay after they have taken that look and it doesn’t appear that Danica’s celebrity has had a long term effect. Yes there are people who are fans of hers, that’s great, people should cheer for who they want, but most of them seem to be looky lou’s. they may recognize her name and have a t-shirt that has her face on it, but do they tune in for every race?

GinaV24

Also IMO NASCAR would be better served by improving their racing product and tv broadcasts, rather than relying on celebrities for their draw. That has been a big thing, not only with Danica but by having various Hollywood types, whatever come to the races, but gimmicks only go so far. Good racing would keep people interested.

I know that if I had come into the sport when the TV contracts had just been renewed with the introduction of the COT and the resulting follow the leader racing that resulted, I wouldn’t have continued to be a fan after watching a few of those races – on TV or at the track.

messengerfm

JohnQ, when did your tabloid-loving daughter become the blueprint for the NASCAR fan base? She doesn’t go to races, watch races on TV or buy sponsor products and will lose interest quickly. And I have to question how much of a fan you are if you still cannot spell Jimmie Johnson’s name after 6 championship seasons! Maybe there is a place in NASCAR for the sideshow that is Danica, but it is not wasting a ride with a championship-caliber team.

JohnQ

Aaaaah! I kicked the hornets nest, but leave my kids alone! One of my daughters is a cop and the other is a tax accountant. Neither would piss on Kim Kardasian if she burst aflame in front of them. Neither pays attention to the tabloids and neither has much interest in cars. So of course, they are bad people! Again, non fans only exposure to NASCAR is through our flavor of the week media. The coverage of both Stewart and Busch was not intended to be fair, but rather to be sensational., and it was. Danica is a back of the pack driver no better or worse than 20 others and I’m a bad fan because I think her mainstream appeal might get others to at least check out NASCAR?. Hell, the stands are full, who needs new fans? Paul Menard’s daddy bought him a ride and he brings in no potential fans. Why aren’t your panties in a bunch about that?
PS: Who cares how Jimmy, James, Jimi, Jimmie Johnson spells his name?

D

Bill, KB, JohnQ, and all the other denying hatemongers: You just don’t understand the problem, it is you.

Your sort is old money, dwindling money, whiners, complainers; it’s over for you. You can’t admit the smallest facts; Danica is good for NASCAR, good for any team she’s on; the big one, she’s a good race car driver. Importantly, she has a high value because she is a steady draw for new money, she has high appeal in Hollywood and Television, is known and watched fervently by other peoples in far away lands, kicks a lot of old money ass, has become a country girl, a big draw for country/western music stars and demographics, and because of you whiners, etc., ad infinitum and your dwindling money.

So keep on keeping on, but this girl is getting stronger and better, and she’s here to stay.

Now, y’all have a nice day, and don’t forget to tune in for Danica in the Fox1 broadcast booth Saturday!

kb

D, thanks for the blasting, all well and good. Now that you feel better can you help with a question I have that has to do with hard financial numbers and not lust of a poster on your bedroom ceiling? Very simple and it won’t take but a second I guarantee it.

One thing before we proceed…you are an idiot to think someone is “old” or “old money” because people have
a brain, clearly you don’t. Emotion rules you with a clear distortion of talent vs.freak show “marketability” “.

Can you please provide hard financial data other than merchandise sales that Danica is good for Nascar?
Can you please provide specifically where she is a new draw for money as her only source of revenue has
not renewed her contract?

If you say she is here to stay on her appeal to the idiots who drink the celebrity Koolaid, I am sure you are correct. The world is a shallow place and you seem to revel in it. Poor you. If you are talking about her being a talented driver able to truly compete at the Sprint Cup level, then you D are a total a-hole. Sorry we upset you…no not really..

kb

On second glance of your rant I am convinced you are not understanding the argument of talent vs. celebrity. Danica Patrick will always be in some demand to sell swamp land or adult diapers. She will never be a true Sprint Cup competitive driver the way her fans and paid “boosters” want her to be and try and tell you she is. She is all smoke and mirrors in Nascar Sprint Cup. She is one of the contributors of the crap that is Nascar is now know for. However, people will buy anything, and people are always willing to sell something. She will not starve. She has no conscience, a buck is a buck..doesn’t matter how much skin she shows or what lie she is selling. $$$$ is all that matters.

fan4jm

amen – the problem is the other legit female drivers that won’t whore themselves out just to get a break. DP used her looks & sexuality to break into INDYCAR & has been riding those coattails ever since.

Bill B

So where are all the fans at the track? Why aren’t rating going up?
So why hasn’t her contract been renewed if she’s that great?
Haas is funding KB out of his own pocket, if he thought Danica was that great why wouldn’t he fund her.
Where are all the sponsors clamoring to get on her bandwagon?

You are nothing but a fanboy or fangirl.
Your opinion is so blinded by your fandom that you can see the forest for the trees.
YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

GinaV24

you go, kb and Bill B! Well said on all points.

John C.

D,
If Danica is such a good driver, how do you explain the fact that last year Kurt was consistently running up front, made the Chase, and after he was eliminated from the Chase, SHR swapped Kurt and Danica. The teams stayed intact, equipment and all, with only the drivers changing. Kurt still ran good and Danica still ran bad. This trend has continued this year as Kurt has won a race and has had several opportunities to win more. If I hear one more time that she’s a good driver, I think I’ll puke. It’s obvious that Go Daddy saw the same thing and got out while they could.

JohnQ

I’ve really enjoyed all this back and forth and differing opinions. Sometimes we commenters tend to be an echo chamber. I’ve found Danica to be mildly interesting since she ran open wheel. I actually didn’t know she was such a hot button topic.

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